Carter Page's involvement in the Trump presidential campaign — or, more specifically, that he came under FBI surveillance after having been added to Trump's team — is central to the current debate over the memo produced by staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.
When then-candidate Donald Trump told The Washington Post in March 2016 that his newly announced foreign policy advisory team included a man from the energy industry named Carter Page, neither he nor our editorial board could have imagined what was to follow.
Page’s involvement in the campaign — or, more specifically, that he came under FBI surveillance after having been added to Trump’s team — is central to the current debate over a memo produced by staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. That memo, released publicly on Friday, argues in part that the Page warrant, issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), stemmed directly from information conveyed to the FBI by a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele. Steele was the author of the reports included in the infamous “dossier,” which included multiple reports involving Page.
Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016 with the Trump campaign’s approval and, while there, he allegedly met with officials from a Russian energy firm and the Russian government, according to what Steele was told by sources. Page denied those contacts (though he did later report to the campaign that he’d had a conversation with a different government official who expressed his support for Trump).
The memo alleges that Steele expressed direct bias against Trump’s election and that the warrant relied heavily on his reporting despite that. This, Trump and many of his allies seem to believe, illustrates that the investigation into the Trump campaign was fatally marred by political bias.
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That argument, though, is itself flawed. The Page warrant — issued after Page took leave from the campaign — is only a small part of a broad investigation that’s already resulted in two guilty pleas and charges against two other individuals.
We created the accompanying illustration to show the scope of the investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller III, to the extent that we know its elements.
The use of the dossier for the Page warrant is marked with an arrow. Let’s walk through the other elements that we know about.
Page first came to the FBI’s attention in 2013, when a Russian suspected to be linked to the country’s intelligence agencies identified him in a recorded conversation as someone who might be able to be leveraged for information. The Post’s original story about the Page warrant noted that this incident was part of the warrant application, which isn’t mentioned in the newly released memo. There may also have been other components of the warrant that haven’t yet been made public.
How much of the rest of Steele’s dossier is included in the Mueller investigation isn’t clear.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates came to the Trump campaign in early 2016. Manafort served as Trump’s campaign chairman and Gates, a longtime business associate of Manafort, joined him. Manafort’s ties to the Russian government weren’t secret; he’d helped the campaign of a Russian-linked candidate in Ukraine several years earlier. He left the campaign in August 2016 following questions about illicit payments from a Ukrainian political party. Mueller’s team eventually charged Manafort and Gates with charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Michael Flynn traveled to Russia in 2014 for an event for the government-backed television network RT. After he got involved with Trump’s campaign, he came under scrutiny for an unreported lobbying contract with a business linked to the Turkish government and, during the Trump transition, for his contacts with the Russian ambassador. In early 2017 he misrepresented those conversations in an interview with the FBI and, last fall, was charged with lying to the FBI. He’s believed to be cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
George Papadopoulos was named to the Trump foreign-policy team at the same time as Page. He was then contacted by a London-based professor with links to the Russian government who eventually connected him to someone within Russia to ostensibly set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The professor also told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, a revelation which Papadopoulos later shared with an Australian diplomat. When emails started being leaked, the Australians tipped off the FBI, launching the initial counterintelligence operation — in July 2016.
Papadopoulos admitted lying to the FBI last fall and is also believed to have been co-operating with the investigation.
Once Trump was in office, the obstruction of justice issue was raised. First, he allegedly told former FBI director James Comey that he hoped the investigation into Flynn could be “let go.” Later, when reports of a meeting with a Russian attorney in Trump Tower were revealed by The New York Times, the Trump team’s initial, untrue response to those reports became a focus of Mueller’s investigation. (Mueller took over in May, following the firing of Comey.)
There may also be other incidents or individuals who aren’t yet known about publicly who are part of Mueller’s investigation. (These bars aren’t necessarily precisely to scale of importance, mind you, but we’ve tried to weight them roughly to that end.)
There are four people who have been indicted or admitted wrongdoing so far in the Mueller investigation. What else may follow isn’t clear. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps something related to the obstruction of justice case. Perhaps something else entirely. It’s not yet clear.
What is clear is that taking the dossier out of the mix — indeed, taking Page himself out of the mix — doesn’t do much to affect the scope of the investigation.