As Donald Trump’s Russia scandal grew more serious late last year, the Republican’s team faced all kinds of questions, including whether anyone from the campaign was in communications with Russia ahead of Election Day. The answer was always the same: No.
In the face of reports that Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser, may have spoken with Russian officials during the campaign, Sean Spicer told reporters during the transition period, “Carter Page is an individual whom the president-elect does not know.”
Even at the time, that was hard to believe. A year ago, Trump personally singled out Page, by name, as one of only a handful of people who were advising him on matters of foreign policy. A few months later, Page sought and received permission from Trump’s then-campaign manager to visit Moscow.
And that’s now proving to be a serious problem. Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Page was in communications with at least one Russian spy a few years ago, and last night, the Washington Post had an even more striking scoop.
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.
The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.
This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
As Rachel emphasized on the show last night, this reporting is extraordinary, in part because of the revelations, but also because leaks from FISA court proceedings are exceedingly rare.
But we’re then confronted with the importance of the reporting itself: a foreign-policy adviser to the president of the United States was investigated as a possible agent of Russia, while Russia was illegally intervening in the campaign on the president’s behalf.
How Page came to be a Trump foreign-policy adviser in the first place remains a point no one on Team Trump has been able to explain.
Page, it’s worth noting, hasn’t been charged with any crimes, and denies any wrongdoing. That said, a federal counter-espionage investigation into Russia’s interference, and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with Moscow’s operation, remains ongoing.
As if this weren’t quite enough, the Associated Press reports this morning on another controversial figure on the Trump campaign and his own connections to Russia.
Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.
Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party – and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country’s former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger’s authenticity.
Now, financial records newly obtained by The Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort’s name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort’s firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.