A former adviser to Donald Trump who is at the centre of an FBI investigation was exhibiting “strongly pro-Kremlin” ideology almost two decades ago, his former employer has told the Guardian.
Carter Page, who was reportedly being monitored by the FBI last summer because of suspicions about his ties to Russia, was hired in 1998 by the Eurasia Group, a major US consulting firm that advises banks and multinational corporations, but left the firm shortly thereafter.
The account of Page’s abrupt departure from the Eurasia Group suggests that concerns about Page and questions about his links to Russia were known in some professional circles for nearly two decades and long before Page joined Trump’s successful presidential campaign.
Now Page – who has denied all wrongdoing – is at the centre of overlapping FBI and congressional investigations into possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The former Merrill Lynch banker, who was relatively unknown in politics before he was touted as being a foreign policy adviser in the Trump campaign, has steadfastly declined to comment on how he got involved in the Republican campaign. He told ABC News on Thursday that he would not disclose the name of the person who recruited him into the campaign because it would fuel conspiracy theories and have their “lives disrupted”.
Ian Bremmer, the influential president of the Eurasia Group, on Thursday used Twitter to call Page the “most wackadoodle” alumni of the firm in history.
Bremmer told the Guardian that Page had worked at Eurasia for three months.
“It was very clear he was ideologically very strongly pro-Kremlin, which wasn’t at all clear when he interviewed. As a result, he wasn’t a good fit at Eurasia Group,” Bremmer said through a spokesperson in an email.
Page is the first Trump aide known to have been the subject of a secret surveillance order, known as a Fisa warrant and issued by a secret court, concerning his connections to Russia. The warrant, as revealed by the Washington Post, was issued in summer 2016, around the time the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump-Russia allegations began in late July.
Because Fisa exists to restrict national-security surveillance on Americans, the standards the FBI must meet to obtain one against a specific US citizen are high. They require a certification that probable cause exists that the target of the intended surveillance is an agent of a foreign power.
When the Guardian approached Page, he disputed the factual allegations Bremmer made against him about his departure from the Eurasia Group but said he would not comment for this story.
Page has repeatedly said he wants to testify before the House intelligence committee’s inquiry into Trump-Russia contacts to clear his name. In the interview with ABC News on Thursday, Page initially denied discussing sanctions with Russians during his Moscow trip, but then backtracked under questioning, saying “something may have come up” with unidentified Russian contacts.
“Let’s see what comes out in this Fisa transcript,” Page told the journalist George Stephanopoulos.
One person who knew Page and is familiar with his employment history said the former Trump adviser was not regarded as particularly effective or intelligent – he was “not smooth or a slick guy”, the source said.
The 2016 Fisa warrant, lasting 90 days and reportedly renewed at least once for another 90-day period, does not mark the first time Page has come under counterintelligence suspicion.
A January 2015 indictment of a Russian spy ring identified Page, under a pseudonym, as a contact of a Russian intelligence operative, Victor Podobnyy. Page confirmed to BuzzFeed that he was Podobnyy’s “Male #1” associate, from whom Podobnyy, operating out of Russia’s UN office, acquired documents about the US energy industry.
“I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am … He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up,” court papers quote Podobnyy as saying about Page.
Page, relatively obscure in US foreign policy circles, was among the most forthrightly pro-Russia advisers to sign on with Trump. In July 2016, Page traveled to Moscow to speak before the Kremlin-connected New Economic School. His speech, reportedly approved by the Trump campaign, lambasted US and western “hypocrisy” in pushing “democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change” while urging “mutual respect” between Moscow and Washington.
In 2015, Page referenced the Kanye West song New Slaves, a meditation on race and wealth, to accuse Barack Obama, the first black US president, of mistreating Russia. Page said the sections on Russia in Obama’s February 2015 national security strategy “closely parallel an 1850 publication that offered guidance to slaveholders on how to produce the ‘ideal slave’”.
Although Trump unveiled Page as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016, the campaign and later the Trump administration disavowed him as marginal, particularly after reports of his ties to Russia surfaced.
In January, following confirmation that Page was among several Trump surrogates to meet with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said: “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know, and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.”