U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether an American businessman identified by Donald Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials — including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue.
The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.
Some of those briefed were “taken aback” when they learned about Page’s contacts in Moscow, viewing them as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut U.S. foreign policy, said a congressional source familiar with the briefings but who asked for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. The source added that U.S. officials in the briefings indicated that intelligence reports about the adviser’s talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin were being “actively monitored and investigated.”
A senior U.S. law enforcement official did not dispute that characterization when asked for comment by Yahoo News. “It’s on our radar screen,” said the official about Page’s contacts with Russian officials. “It’s being looked at.”
Page is a former Merrill Lynch investment banker in Moscow who now runs a New York consulting firm, Global Energy Capital, located around the corner from Trump Tower, that specializes in oil and gas deals in Russia and other Central Asian countries. He declined repeated requests to comment for this story.
Trump first mentioned Page’s name when asked to identify his “foreign policy team” during an interview with the Washington Post editorial team last March. Describing him then only as a “PhD,” Trump named Page as among five advisers “that we are dealing with.” But his precise role in the campaign remains unclear; Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks last month called him an “informal foreign adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” Asked this week by Yahoo News, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said Page “has no role” and added: “We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present.” Miller did not respond when asked why Trump had previously described Page as one of his advisers.
The questions about Page come amid mounting concerns within the U.S. intelligence community about Russian cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and state election databases in Arizona and Illinois. In a rare public talk this week, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence Mike Vickers said that the Russian cyberattacks constituted meddling in the U.S. election and were “beyond the pale.” Also, this week, two senior Democrats — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking minority member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee — released a joint statement that went further then what U.S. officials had publicly said about the matter.
“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election,” they said. “At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election.” They added that “orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government.”