The Cable

Russian Spy Met Trump Adviser Carter Page and Thought He Was an ‘Idiot’

Carter Page met with a Russian spy in 2013 and supplied research materials.

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Russian intelligence agents working in New York City met with Carter Page, a one-time foreign-policy adviser to President Donald Trump, and attempted to recruit the business consultant as a spy in 2013.

While the effort was ultimately unsuccessful as the FBI broke up the spy ring in 2015, the meetings between Page and the Russian intelligence officers constitute one of the most substantive ties to date between a member of the Trump camp and Russian intelligence. Those meetings will likely add to the urgency of the multiple ongoing investigations of the administration’s ties to Moscow and the campaign’s possible coordination with Russian intelligence to tip the election in Trump’s favor.

In a 2015 complaint describing the FBI’s investigation of the spy ring, Page is only identified as “Male-1.” BuzzFeed first reported that Page is the business consultant in question, and he has confirmed it.

The new revelations will almost certainly mean more scrutiny for Page, an otherwise obscure figure who catapulted to prominence last year after Trump said the former investment banker was advising the campaign.

In 2013, though, Russian intelligence took a dim view of Page. In the 2015 complaint that details an FBI investigation into a three-man Russian spy ring, the foreign agents describe their attempt to recruit Page, describing him as an ambitious climber eager to make money in Russia’s energy sector.

“He got hooked on Gazprom,” Victor Podobnyy, an officer of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, told his boss, Igor Sporyshev. “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.”

Podobnyy, officially an attaché to the Russian mission of the U.N., told the Page that he would work with Sporyshev, as Russia’s trade representative in New York, to win contracts for Page. “He went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back,” Podobnyy told Sporyshev on April 8, 2013. “I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am.” Podobnyy noted that Page wrote him emails in Russian “to practice,” and said “he flies to Moscow more than I do.”

But Podobnyy never intended to deliver on those promises and instead pumped Page for information.

“This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor,” Podobnyy told his supervisor. “You get the documents from him and tell him to go f-ck himself.”

According to a summary of the allegations against the Russian spies, Page provided Podobnyy with his views on the future of the energy industry, as well as related documents. Collecting such information about the Western outlook on the energy industry, the lynchpin of the Russian economy, would represent one key task for Moscow agents stationed in the United States. All three defendants in the complaint worked in the economics division of the SVR.

Based on the FBI complaint, it appears Page never realized his Russian contact worked on behalf of Moscow’s intelligence services.

In a statement to ABC News, Page said his contact with the Russian operative only consisted of sharing “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents.”

Page’s exact role in the Trump campaign remains unclear, and the White House has repeatedly sought to distance itself from the energy consultant. When Trump revealed Page’s involvement in the campaign in a March interview with the Washington Post editorial board, Washington foreign-policy hands didn’t know what to make of the man. A relative unknown, Page’s views were something of a mystery, and he lacked government experience.

Since then, Page has emerged as a central figure in the shadowy relationship between the Trump team and Moscow. An advocate of closer relations between Russia and the West, Page travelled to Moscow for a July 7 speech.

That trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigators examining whether the Trump lieutenants colluded with the Kremlin in its campaign to hack into American political institutions and leak the fruits of those raiding missions to boost Trump’s campaign.

A dossier of unconfirmed intelligence reports authored by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, alleges that Page met with the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft Igor Sechin, considered to be one of President Vladimir Putin’s key deputies. According to Steele’s reporting, Page and Sechin discussed lifting sanctions imposed on Russia as a resulted of its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and support of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Parts of the Steele dossier were summarized in intelligence briefings for then-President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump in January.

In one of its most explosive allegations, the Steele dossier claims that Page also met with a member of the Russian government during his July trip. During that meeting, the Russian official, Igor Divyekin, allegedly revealed that the Kremlin had in its possession compromising information on Hillary Clinton and discussed releasing it to the Trump campaign.

According to Steele, Divyekin may also have hinted that the Kremlin was also in possession of so-called “kompromat” on Trump, which Trump “should bear in mind in his dealings with” Russia.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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