Carter Page denies being Russian agent
WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page denied Sunday that he was an intelligence agent for Russia, after the release of secret documents showed federal investigators believed he was engaged in ‘‘clandestine intelligence activities’’ on behalf of Russia.
Page’s denial, on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Nation,’’ was his first public response to the release on Saturday of secret applications for federal wiretaps on him.
The documents, which were heavily redacted, showed that federal investigators were looking into Page’s possible connections with Russia as early as 2013, long before Trump named him as an adviser to his presidential campaign in March 2016.
On Sunday, Page said it was ‘‘ridiculous’’ and a ‘‘complete joke’’ to believe he had been an agent of the Russian government.
‘‘I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,’’ Page said on CNN.
From his golf club in New Jersey, Trump issued a Twitter message saying the FBI wiretap on Page was part of politically motivated spying on Trump’s presidential campaign.
Page avoided questions about what, exactly, his connections to Russia had been.
When CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that Page had once called himself an ‘‘informal adviser’’ to the Kremlin, Page responded: ‘‘You know, informal, having some conversations with people. I mean, this is really nothing.’’
‘‘I’ve never been anywhere near what’s being described here’’ in the released documents, Page said. ‘‘There was nothing in terms of nefarious behavior.’’
Also Sunday, Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina urged Trump to take a harder line against Russian President Vladimir Putin, a few days after Trump seemed deferential to Putin after a summit meeting in Helsinki.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Graham — a sometime Trump ally — seemed to be speaking directly to Trump, telling him to impose ‘‘new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions’’ on Russia before Putin visits Washington.
Graham noted that Trump had changed his position about whether Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election: ‘‘He’s changed his mind four times this week.’’
‘‘The president gets this confused. If you suggest that Russians meddled in 2016, he goes to the idea that, ‘Well, I didn’t collude with them,’ ‘‘ Graham said.
Speaking directly to Trump again, he urged the president not to treat questions about Russian interference only as an attack on his own legitimacy. ‘‘Mr. President, they meddled in the election,’’ Graham said. ‘‘It could be us next. It could be some other power,’’ meaning that Republicans might be hurt, instead of helped.
The wiretapping documents were released after a week of head-scratching developments related to Trump’s posture toward Russia.
Rubio, the author of a bill that would impose severe sanctions on Russia if it were determined to have interfered in a US election, said Trump should approach meetings with Putin without illusions about the Russian leader’s endgame.
‘‘He’s interested in gaining advantage at our expense and to his benefit,’’ Rubio said on CNN.
The new documents about the wiretaps on Page seemed to be at the top of Trump’s mind.
In Twitter messages, Trump repeated an attack used by some of his allies in the House: that, in seeking the wiretaps, the FBI had relied too much upon a ‘‘dossier’’ compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele — and paid for by Trump’s Democratic opponents.
Steele also shared his findings with the FBI because he was concerned that Trump may have been compromised by Russia.
‘‘As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of Justice and FBI misled the courts. Witch hunt, rigged, a scam!’’ Trump said.
In a follow-up tweet, Trump added: ‘‘Looking more and more like the Trump campaign for president was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC. Ask her how that worked out — she did better with Crazy Bernie. Republicans must get tough now. An illegal scam!’’
In his appearance on CBS, Graham was asked if the surveillance of Page was justified. ‘‘No, not at all, in my view. If the dossier’s the reason you issued the warrant, it was a bunch of garbage,’’ Graham said.
The released documents don’t show the full set of evidence and sources the FBI relied upon in seeking a judge’s permission to wiretap Page. Whole sections in the application — detailing the FBI’s justification for believing Page was a Russian agent — are blacked out.
But the documents make clear that Steele was one source for the FBI. In using Steele’s material, the FBI also disclosed to judges that his work was on behalf of a client who was possibly looking for politically damaging information about Trump.
Six days after Trump’s meeting with Putin, both Graham and Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said they still do not know what Trump and Putin said when they met privately in Helsinki last week.
‘‘We have no idea what this president, our president, agreed to,’’ Schiff said on ABC’s ‘‘This Week.’’ ‘‘Ostensibly there may have been agreements on Ukraine, on Syria, and who knows what else? . . . It is negligent with our national security for us not to know.’’
Schiff said Trump is ‘‘acting like someone who is compromised by Russia.’’
‘‘It may very well be that he is compromised, or it may very well be that he believes that he’s compromised, that the Russians have information on him,’’ he said.