Let's put it this way: If poor, abused Carter Page wasn't a Russian agent back when Donald Trump plucked him from obscurity to advise his 2016 campaign, he'd definitely done all he could to look like one. Among the many bizarre aspects of Rep. Devin Nunes' incompetent and dishonest "Top Secret" memo purporting to discredit the Mueller investigation, pushing this odd bird back into the spotlight ranks near the top.
Why did Trump pick Page in the first place? Page's publicly praising Vladimir Putin as a stronger, more decisive leader than President Obama surely had something to do with it. Trump loves him some Putin. Imprisoning political rivals gives him a thrill. That Putin opponents keep turning up dead in ambiguous circumstances only proves him a manly, decisive leader.
Then there was Page's longstanding opposition to economic sanctions against Russia in reaction to its armed incursions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Getting those sanctions lifted was the biggest tangible result the Kremlin hoped to achieve from its cyberattacks on the U.S. presidential election.
So reliably did Carter Page parrot the Putin line during three years living in Moscow that FBI agents first interviewed him in 2013, warning that he appeared to be under recruitment as a Russian spy. Indeed, Time recently found a letter Page wrote to a publisher back then bragging that "Over the past half-year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal adviser to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month."
The privilege, mind you.
Indeed, FBI surveillance captured Russian spies talking about their attempts to recruit Page, despite characterizing him as an "idiot."
"I also promised him a lot," convicted Russian agent Victor Podobnyy said on an FBI intercept. "This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go (bleep) himself."
Page admitted providing the documents.
A Kremlin adviser, and then a Trump adviser. Makes sense to me, although I do wonder exactly who recommended him.
But an idiot? Anybody who watches his March 2, 2017, interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, during which Page first denies, next admits and then lamely tries to spin a meeting with Russian ambassador (and spymaster) Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 GOP convention will find it hard to disagree.
Among other liabilities, Carter Page is a terrible liar. The man giggles.
Later that month, Page nipped off to Moscow to speak at the prestigious New Economic School, where he basically stuck to the Putin party line about poor, misunderstood Vladimir's excuses for military adventurism. Asked by Chris Hayes how many Kremlin big-shots and spies he'd encountered there, Page giggled.
He couldn't be sure. They don't wear ID badges, you know.
It was the Moscow junket that seemingly led to Page being asked to step down from the Trump campaign, following directly upon embarrassing news that campaign manager Paul Manafort had received more than $12 million cash from a Kremlin-linked Ukranian political party.
So no wonder Trump press spokesman Sean Spicer got sent out to deny that the president even knew the guy. Which may even be true. Hence too, however, the sheer absurdity of Devin Nunes' pronouncement on "Fox and Friends" that the FBI used tainted evidence "to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign."
Earth to Nunes: Page resigned from the campaign two months before the FBI reopened its probe of his links to Russian intelligence. Hence the agency's October 2016 FISA court application to place him under surveillance. To win approval, investigators needed to provide probable cause that he was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence-gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia.
To maintain surveillance, FBI investigators then had to convince a federal judge that valuable new evidence had resulted every 90 days. Key words: "new evidence." The surveillance continued for a full year, notes Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterespionage agent.
"And then there are all the multiple approaches made by individuals connected to Russian intelligence to Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions," Rangappa writes. She adds bluntly but accurately that "Every one of them has lied when asked about their Russian contacts."
Somebody else who lied to the FBI was George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign lightweight whose drunken boasts to an Australian diplomat about Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton's emails jump-started the agency's counterintelligence investigation in July 2016. The Nunes memo's unwitting confirmation of this fact makes nonsense of all the rest.
Meanwhile, British dossier or no dossier -- and it's worth noting that the Nunes memo makes no attempt to prove its contents false, but merely attacks author Christopher Steele's presumed motives -- it would have been gross dereliction of duty for U.S. intelligence NOT to give Carter Page a long, hard look.
(Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at email@example.com.)