Donald Trump’s allies have invested a considerable amount of time and energy into a curious idea: U.S. surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser in 2016, was an outrageous abuse. As regular readers know, the argument has never really made any sense, but it was nevertheless the motivation behind the laughable “Nunes memo,” prepared by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his team.
In his interview with The Hill, the president made clear that he’s still deeply confused about the entire episode.
He criticizing [sic] the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court’s approval of the warrant that authorized surveillance of Carter Page, a low-level Trump campaign aide, toward the end of the 2016 election, suggesting the FBI misled the court.
“They know this is one of the great scandals in the history of our country because basically what they did is, they used Carter Page, who nobody even knew, who I feel very badly for, I think he’s been treated very badly. They used Carter Page as a foil in order to surveil a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”
No, “they” didn’t. Trump’s conspiracy theory is ridiculous, and this is probably the last hill Republicans should be willing to die on.
In case anyone has forgotten the backstory on Carter Page, we’re talking about a man who described himself in writing as an “advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.” Indeed, as we discussed in January, the same year in which Page talked up his Kremlin ties, he was also targeted by a Russian spy ring, drawing FBI scrutiny.
Six months after the spy ring was broken up – resulting in multiple criminal convictions – Page joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser, despite having no apparent qualifications for the job. A few months into his tenure, Page, newly identified by Trump as someone who had the Republican candidate’s ear on matters related to international affairs, traveled to Russia, met with prominent foreign officials, and denounced U.S. sanctions against the Putin government.
It was the sort of thing that was likely to capture the interest of U.S. counter-intelligence officials – and that’s exactly what happened. In fact, Page was suspected as a possible agent of a foreign adversary.
After Trump won the election, Page went back to Moscow for another visit, during which time he again met with leading Russian officials.
Donald Trump and many of his far-right allies look at these details and remain entirely convinced, not only that Page shouldn’t have been watched by the U.S. intelligence community, but also, in the president’s words, that the court-approved surveillance of Page constitutes “one of the great scandals in the history of our country.”
No, seriously. This genuinely bizarre argument is the cornerstone of an entire pro-Trump effort to undermine an ongoing federal investigation into a foreign attack on the United States.
A couple of months ago, the Trump administration released previously secret materials related to Page’s surveillance – the documents were apparently made public to help bolster Republican conspiracy theories – all of which made the right’s claims appear worse, not better.
And yet, here we are, months later, watching Trump choose to believe what he wants to believe, reality be damned.