For most of us, Carter Page was a rather obscure person who only began to matter when the the Deep State become involved in, first, attempting to prevent a Trump presidency and, then, in attempting to stage a lawfare style coup against the Trump presidency. Nevertheless, in the world of National Security, Carter Page had mattered for several years, to the extent that he was almost certainly familiar to officials at the highest levels, perhaps even to Obama.
First, it's important to understand the position of the FBI in national affairs. The FBI is, of course, the country's premier law enforcement and investigative agency. Since 9/11 the FBI has also gained enormous importance for its counterterrorism role. However, from its earliest days the FBI had a second role that, while generally not visible to the public eye, has always been crucial: That role is the FBI's status as the lead counterintelligence (CI) agency for the US.
The FBI's CI role, while often relatively low key at FBI field offices across the country, is what gets the FBI a seat at the table in the highest circles of government. We're used to hearing about FBI criminal investigations that lead to high profile prosecutions. Those prosecutions, while they may draw the attention of the president, rarely involve the president's input. They stop at the AG level.
The case is different with the FBI's CI role. An important CI case can have major ramifications for US foreign relations generally, thus potentially drawing the personal attention of top level cabinet members and other agency heads--State, Defense, the Intel Community, etc. The NSC and the president may also get involved, since any actions taken in a CI case could impact sensitive foreign relations matters.
Carter Page had operated 'under the radar' for years--including years spent living and working in Russia--as a CIA asset. However, in 2013 he became involved in an FBI investigation in New York City involving Russian intelligence gathering (I'll refer to the FBI office in New York as the 'NYO' for the sake of brevity). How truly important that case really was needn't detain us. Carter Page was in contact with the Russian intelligence officers (IOs) who were targeted by the FBI investigation and he became an important cooperating witness (CW). That means that he agreed to testify against the Russians, if necessary, if the investigation resulted in prosecution, which would mean revealing his identity publicly.
Below is a lenthy excerpt from the Horowitz report, describing that situation (61-62). Please note the following factors as you read this lengthy excerpt:
Carter Page was well known to the FBI as early as 2009.
Carter Page, from the FBI's earliest contacts with him, was known to the FBI as a CIA asset.
As standard investigative procedure the FBI's NYO would have sought information on Page from the CIA--to confirm Page's status, to seek any derogatory information, to avoid interference. As we see in the information filed against Clinesmith, the CIA was forthcoming in responding to such requests.
Carter Page was fully cooperative with the FBI. In fact, Page's continuing contacts with Russian intelligence officers were welcomed by and closely monitored by the FBI. In fact, those continuing contacts were key to the ultimate success of the FBI investigation.
Not included in the Horowitz report, but apparent from court filings in New York, it appears that Carter Page participated in a very sensitive investigative technique on behalf of the FBI. The highly sensitive nature of that technique would, I feel certain, have required permission for its use from FBIHQ and quite possibly from DoJ and other agencies/departments.
The FBI, understandably, was very upset when they learned that Carter Page had identified himself to Russian officials as the "Male-1" referred to in the indictment of the Russians. I suspect that the degree of upset was caused by the realization that Page's action would have confirmed for the Russians (if they hadn't already guessed) how the FBI had worked the sensitive investigative technique.
In my view, the decision to seek to open a CI case against Carter Page lacked justification. While Page's action in "outing" himself to the Russians was foolish and reckless, there was no reason to believe that it was done in any capacity as an agent of Russia. Note, too, that the FBI doesn't claim that it instructed Page to discontinue contact with Russian IOs--an action that would likely have caused suspicion on the Russia side and would possibly have thwarted the success of the FBI case.
Importantly, NYO sought advice from the Counterespionage Section (CE) at FBIHQ on how to proceed against Carter Page. At the time in question, March of 2016, Peter Strzok was either already or soon to be the head of the Counterespionage Section. NYO contacted CE on March 2, but did not receive a response until April 1--a month later and after FBIHQ had learned that Carter Page had joined the Trump campaign as an adviser. CE told the NYO to open an investigation on Page.
In the nature of these things, CE should have consulted with FBI lawyers as well as DoJ lawyers before opening such an investigation on a member of a presidential campaign organization. The one month delay suggests that such consultations did, in fact, take place. The obvious and proper course of action would have been to offer Trump a defensive briefing to warn him against Carter Page, rather than opening an investigation of Page and leaving Trump in the dark. All of this happened months before Carter Page "surfaced" in the Steele "dossier," before Page went to Cambridge and met Stefan Halper, and before Page traveled to Moscow to deliver a commencement address. Hmmmm.
Thus the FBI had been in contact with Carter Page for up to 7 years and for all that time had known that he was a CIA asset--as well as an asset for the FBI themselves. The version of Page's relationship with the FBI that appeared in the Carter Page FISA application was highly slanted and deceptive. There is no possible way that the FISC judges who read the application could have understood the true nature of Page's relationship with either the FBI or the CIA (which was entirely omitted).
So, here is the actual text from the Horowitz report:
An FBI counterintelligence agent in NYFO (NYFO CI Agent) with extensive experience in Russian matters told the OIG that Carter Page had been on NYFO's radar since 2009, when he had contact with a known Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 1). According to the EC documenting NYFO's June 2009 interview with Page, Page told NYFO agents that he knew and kept in regular contact with Intelligence Officer 1 and provided him with a copy of a non-public annual report from an American company. The EC stated that Page "immediately advised [the agents] that due to his work and overseas experiences, he has been questioned by and provides information to representatives of [another U.S. government agency] on an ongoing basis." The EC also noted that agents did not ask Page any questions about his dealings with the other U.S. government agency during the interviews. 180
NYFO CI agents believed that Carter Page was "passed" from Intelligence Officer 1 to a successor Russian intelligence officer (Intelligence Officer 2) in 2013 and that Page would continue to be introduced to other Russian intelligence officers in the future. 181 In June 2013, NYFO CI agents interviewed Carter Page about these contacts. Page acknowledged meeting Intelligence Officer 2 following an introduction earlier in 2013. When agents intimated to Carter Page during the interview that Intelligence Officer 2 may be a Russian intelligence officer, specifically, an "SVR" officer, Page told them he believed in "openness" and because he did not have access to classified information, his acquaintance with Intelligence Officer 2 was a "positive" for him. In August 2013, NYFO CI agents again interviewed Page regarding his contacts with Intelligence Officer 2. Page acknowledged meeting with Intelligence Officer 2 since his June 2013 FBI interview.
Note that the FBI fully expected Page to remain in contact with Russian intelligence officers. That's exactly what FBI CI agents would be looking for to gain access to those Russians through a US person whom the Russians might not suspect of cooperating with the FBI. Compare that with the later claim of the NYO supervisor that she should have opened an investigation on Page for having such contacts, implying that there was something untoward about them. That's not entirely truthful.
In January 2015, three Russian intelligence officers, including Intelligence Officer 2, were charged in a sealed complaint, and subsequently indicted, in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for conspiring to act in the United States as unregistered agents of the Russian Federation. 182 The indictment referenced Intelligence Officer 2's attempts to recruit "Male-1" as an asset for gathering intelligence on behalf of Russia.
On March 2, 2016, the NYFO CI Agent and SDNY Assistant United States Attorneys interviewed Carter Page in preparation for the trial of one of the indicted Russian intelligence officers. During the interview, Page stated that he knew he was the person referred to as Male-1 in the indictment and further said that he had identified himself as Male-1 to a Russian Minister and various Russian officials at a United Nations event in "the spirit of openness." The NYFO CI Agent told us she returned to her office after the interview and discussed with her supervisor opening a counterintelligence case on Page based on his statement to Russian officials that he believed he was Male-1 in the indictment and his continued contact with Russian intelligence officers.
The FBI's NYFO CI squad supervisor (NYFO CI Supervisor) told us she believed she should have opened a counterintelligence case on Carter Page prior to March 2, 2016 based on his continued contacts with Russian intelligence officers; however, she said the squad was preparing for a big trial, and they did not focus on Page until he was interviewed again on March 2. She told us that after the March 2 interview, she called CD's Counterespionage Section at FBI Headquarters to determine whether Page had any security clearances and to ask for guidance as to what type of investigation to open on Page. 183 On April 1, 2016, the NYFO CI Supervisor received an email from the Counterespionage Section advising her to open a [redacted] investigation on Page. ...
The importance of all this is that the NYO investigation in which Carter Page became involved was not simply a NYO case. Because of the sticky legal and foreign policy issues involved--including both the use of sensitive investigative techniques as well as the actual decision to arrest and prosecute a Russian citizen charged as an intelligence officer--the NYO required the active participation of FBIHQ. But I very much doubt that either the FBI--in its investigation--or the SDNY--in its decision to prosecute--could have acted without approval at the very highest levels of government. The legal issues raised would have required a discussion of Carter Page's role. While his name might well have not been raised at those higher levels, I believe that within the FBI his identity would have been known. Moreover, the Director himself would certainly have been involved in these discussions.
That's the full background to the FBI decision to use the Carter Page investigation--absorbed under the "umbrella" of Crossfire Hurricane and, later, the Team Mueller witchhunt--as a vehicle for a FISA that was clearly designed to provide a window into the entire Trump organization. By this point the FBI knew pretty much all there was to know about Page, and had likely discussed him with outside agencies as well.
Now, when we turn to the information that was filed against Kevin Clinesmith, we learn interesting details. For example, in paragraph 5 we learn that Carter Page was a CIA "operational contact" from 2008-2013. Why did that relationship end in 2013? Because, one presumes, the CIA learned from the FBI that Page might be testifying in a trial against Russian IOs and, in any event, his role in the FBI investigation would likely have blown whatever "cover" he could have had. His access to Russians would be severely limited in future. Again, this illustrates that Carter Page was a topic of earnest discussion outside the FBI.
Further, we learn that the CIA provided a memorandum to the FBI--specifically, to the "Crossfire Hurricane team"-- that went into some of the details of Page's cooperation with the CIA. Obviously, that only happened because the FBI requested that information. It was a standard investigative step, one of the first the FBI would have taken, and the CIA reply came promptly: August 17. But, as we know, neither the CIA information nor the true nature of Page's relationship with the FBI was disclosed to the FISC.
We have already pointed out the unjustifiable decision of the FBI to refuse to warn the Trump campaign that Carter Page was (supposedly) suspected of being an agent for the Russian intelligence services. That decision was made in March/April of 2016, long before Crossfire Hurricane was a glimmer in the eyes of the FBI but, perhaps, not before Glenn Simpson had seen the possibilities of a Russia Hoax involving Carter Page. Equally questionable, however, was an incident in late September of 2016, while the FBI was scrambling to come up with a justification for a FISA on Carter Page.
On September 25, 2016, Carter Page published--in the Washington Post--an open letter to now disgraced and former Director of the FBI, James Comey. In the letter, responding to leaks to the media suggesting that Page was a Russian agent, Page offered to be interviewed by the FBI. He also specifically noted his long time cooperation with US intelligence agencies:
Having interacted with members of the U.S. intelligence community including the FBI and CIA for many decades, I appreciate the limitations on your staff’s time and assets. Although I have not been contacted by any member of your team in recent months, I would eagerly await their call to discuss any final questions they might possibly have in the interest of helping them put these outrageous allegations to rest while allowing each of us to shift our attention to relevant matters.
Again, this letter needs to be read in the context of all the preceding details of Carter Page's relationship with the FBI and the CIA. Everyone at the FBI who had any involvement with Crossfire Hurricane and the Carter Page investigation would have been aware of most or all of that context. They would have known that this letter was entirely truthful and, beyond the generalities, would have been aware of the specifics we have set out. Other officials in the Obama administration--at the CIA, at DoJ, and quite possibly within the White House--would also have read that letter and been aware of its significance and its full context.
This morning Adam Mill points out (Clinesmith Criminal Plea Hints More Hoax Conspirators Will Be Charged) with regard to that letter:
Page addressed a letter directly to FBI Director James Comey shortly before the FBI certified that intrusive spying was the only way to explore those contacts.
What Mill is referring to is the explicit terms of FISA. Under section 1804 of FISA the FBI is required to certify that the information being sought "cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques."
Carter Page's open letter made it abundantly clear to all concerned--to the FBI generally and to James Comey and Andrew McCabe personally, to all intel related agencies of the US government, to the Russian intelligence services, to the general public--that Page was fully aware that he was being investigated by the FBI as an agent of the Russian intelligence services. In the circumstances, who would reasonably expect Page and the Russians to continue to carry on the clandestine conspiratorial intelligence relationship alleged in the Steele "dossier"--as was required under FISA and which the FBI alleged in their FISA application? What information could the FBI reasonably have expected to obtain, even supposing the sincerity of their belief that Page was a foreign agent of Russia engaged in clandestine intelligence activities, using the extraordinary FISA techniques? Could the FBI honestly certify that they expected to collect information of value that could not be otherwise obtained? Wasn't the reality that the information they sought to collect was focused on the Trump campaign and not on any Russians?
These are all legitimate questions. And all these issues were known to James Comey and everyone else involved. Which is no doubt the reason that Clinesmith wrote on November 9, 2016, shortly after Trump's election:
“My god damned name is all over the legal documents investigating his [Trump's] staff. So, who knows if that breaks to him what he [Trump] is going to do?”
The legal documents Clinesmith refers to would have to include the Carter Page FISA application. Why would Clinesmith have been so exercised? Read in the light of the entire history of Page's relationship with the FBI, the conclusion virtually forces itself upon us: Clinesmith knew that the FISA had been totally unjustified--even leaving aside the credibility of the Steele "dossier." When you then move forward, realizing that Clinesmith was totally aware of the Danchenko debunking of the "dossier" in January, 2017 and arrive at Clinesmith's altering of the CIA email on behalf of Team Mueller in June, 2017, then the enormity of what Clinesmith did really comes home. Pleading guilty to that one false statement should, for purposes of sentencing, bring all that into play.
Adam Mill points out the significance of what Clinesmith's lawyer said yesterday, and it raises a bit of a puzzle:
Clinesmith’s lawyer, Justin Shur, contends his client “did not try to hide the C.I.A. email from other law enforcement officials as they sought the final renewal of the Page wiretap. Mr. Clinesmith had provided the unchanged C.I.A. email to Crossfire Hurricane agents and the Justice Department lawyer drafting the original wiretap application.”
Thus, if you believe Clinesmith’s attorney, each conspirator was forced, figuratively, to bathe his hands in blood. By sending both the doctored and undoctored version of the same email, Clinesmith made sure each of them knew that the conspiracy would involve filing a fraudulent document with the FISA court. This may explain why, more than three years later, the conspirators never turned on each other. Like a 2017 version of Brutus, Clinesmith made sure that if he went down, he would be able to take down the other conspirators as well.
Note: Shur is not suggesting that Clinesmith didn't commit a crime--he's maintaining that there were other criminals involved in this crime. Those criminals were at the FBI ("Crossfire Hurricane agents") and at DoJ ("the Justice Department lawyer drafting the original wiretap application”--David Laufman, given that this was a FARA case, and Laufman was head of the FARA section?). And that makes them part of a conspiracy.
Here's the puzzle, though. Commenter Charles Z. has asked: If Clinesmith provided both emails to these others at the FBI and DoJ, why doesn't the Horowitz report tell us about an electronic trail of emails or texts? I have no sure answer for that, but it's difficult to believe that such sharing didn't occur electronically.
In any event, you can imagine that John Durham's investigators have been going over every aspect of this entire story with a fine toothed comb. Collecting and reviewing documents, interviewing and reinterviewing everyone with any remotely relevant connection to these events, going back to the NYO case.