Most of the FBI’s October 2016 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court for permission to wiretap Carter Page is all but entirely blacked out — so it’s a bit of a jolt suddenly to encounter page 21, virtually all of which is unredacted and easily read.
A close reading of the page suggests, however, that it may offer a key insight into the basis of the FBI’s view of the relationship between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian intelligence interests’ attempts to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, and in turn to the basis of the case apparently being prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller against Trump (“Candidate #1” throughout the document). Page was briefly a foreign-policy adviser to Trump.
The passage also points to the vivid contrasts between the policies regarding Russia that former President Barack Obama supported and those applied more recently by Trump.
Page 21 cites a news article published in July 2016 that reported, “Candidate #1’s campaign worked behind the scenes to make sure that Political Party #1’s platform would not call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the views of almost all of Political Party #1’s foreign-policy leaders in Washington.”
The page continues: “The article stated that Candidate #1’s campaign ‘sought to make sure that [Political Party #1] would not pledge to give Ukraine the weapons it has been asking for from the United States.'”
The page then cites an August 2016 news story from another publication reporting that Candidate #1 “might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and lift punitive U.S. sanctions against Russia. The article opined that while the reason for Candidate #1’s shift was not clear, Candidate #1’s more conciliatory words, which contradict Political Party #1’s official platform, follow Candidate #1’s recent association with several people sympathetic to Russian influence in Ukraine, including foreign-policy adviser Carter Page.”
The key piece of background information needed to understand what the FBI was telling the FISA court in this passage is this sequence of events during former President Barack Obama’s second term in the Oval Office.
Speaking in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 4, 2013, Obama warned Syrian dictator (and Russian client) Bashar al-Assad that “we have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.” This speech reinforced what Obama had previously declared in the White House in August 2013.
But after Obama subsequently did nothing concrete in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, Russia committed two major aggressions.
Beginning in February 2014, Russian military units acting in concert with Ukrainian sympathizers took over the Crimean region of Ukraine, which was then annexed by the Russian Federation. Beginning in April 2014, Russian forces, again acting in concert with local sympathizers, moved into the Donbass region of Ukraine, thus effectively taking over nearly half of that nation.
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These Russian actions were roundly condemned in the U.N. and multiple nations, including the U.S., imposed sanctions of varying intensity against the Russian Federation. Not long afterward, some of the Russian military units seen in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine were moved to Syria.
During the 2016 campaign and since he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump has contended that Obama’s failure to enforce his red line in Syria encouraged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take over the Crimean and Donbass regions of Ukraine.
Given that background, then, it appears from Page 21 of the FBI’s FISA application that the bureau believed Trump was going easy on Russia for its Ukrainian adventures, thanks to Page’s influence on the Republican presidential nominee.
But the apparent FBI view is contradicted by key facts “on the ground.”
First, presidential nominees control the contents of their party’s platform. Here’s what the Trump-led 2016 Republican National Convention said about Russia, Crimea and Ukraine: “We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.”
The platform further noted the following in a section addressed to the Russian people.
“We also have a common problem: The continuing erosion of personal liberty and fundamental rights under the current officials in the Kremlin. Repressive at home and reckless abroad, their policies imperil the nations, which regained their self-determination upon the collapse of the Soviet Union … We will meet the return of Russian belligerence with the same resolve that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will not accept any territorial change in Eastern Europe imposed by force, in Ukraine, Georgia, or elsewhere, and will use all appropriate constitutional measures to bring to justice the practitioners of aggression and assassination.”
In other words, rather than heralding a more “conciliatory tone” from Trump if he was elected, his party’s platform roundly condemned the Putin government in the Kremlin and promised to oppose his aggressions with “the same resolve” President Ronald Reagan showed in the years leading to the fall of the Soviet Union.
Rather than heralding a more “conciliatory tone” from Trump if elected, his party’s platform roundly condemned the Putin government in the Kremlin.
It should be noted that Putin has described the Soviet Union’s demise as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when it became an independent nation.
Second, the policies Trump has followed since taking office display anything but a conciliatory tone toward Putin and Russian aggression in Ukraine. In a March 1, 2018, dispatch, the Associated Press reported: “The Trump administration told Congress on Thursday that it plans to sell Ukraine 210 anti-tank missiles to help it defend its territory from Russia, in a major escalation of U.S. lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military.
“The long-awaited move, which lawmakers of both parties have been urging for years, deepens America’s involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Moscow. It came the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his country has developed new nuclear weapons he claims can’t be intercepted by an enemy.” It also said: “The $47 billion sale includes the 210 American-made Javelin missiles along with 37 command launch units. In anticipation of the sale, the United States has already started training Ukraine’s forces on how to use them.”
The Javelin anti-tank missiles are the key part of the U.S. arms Ukraine has sought: Without them, the Ukrainian military is essentially powerless to stop Russian tanks. Trump’s giving Ukraine Javelins is analogous to Reagan’s 1986 decision to give the Mujahideen in Afghanistan U.S. Stinger missiles. The shoulder-fired Stingers all but neutralized the occupying Soviet military’s fearsome Hind attack helicopters and winged aircraft.
Page told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Saturday that he’s “having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above completely ignorance and/or insanity.”
But even if the FBI’s apparent belief about Page’s influence on Trump on behalf of Russia is accurate, Trump’s actions as president suggest he didn’t listen to his former adviser.