Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.
A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it, Gordon, a retired Naval officer, told POLITICO.
Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to discuss internal campaign matters.
The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but did not deny that it occurred.
“Is it possible that he emailed me asking if he could go to Russia as a private citizen? I don’t remember that, but I probably got 1,000 emails a day at that time, and I can’t remember every single one that I was sent. And I wouldn’t necessarily remember if I had a one-word response to him saying he could do something as a private citizen,” Lewandowski said Tuesday.
Hicks declined to comment. But a White House official said campaign officials did not discuss Page’s planned trip before he left for Moscow.
“No one discussed the trip within the campaign and certainly not with candidate Trump directly,” said the official.
The official pointed to a July statement from Hicks which declared that Page was in Moscow in a private capacity and was not representing the campaign. That statement came in response to media reports from Moscow about Page’s presence there.
Both Lewandowski and the White House official cast Page as a minor character on the periphery of the campaign, who was a foreign policy adviser in name only.
“I’ve never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life,” Lewandowski said.
Gordon and Page had no comment on whether the Trump campaign officially sanctioned the trip, which has drawn the attention of investigators from the FBI and congressional committees investigating possible Trump campaign ties with Russian officials before the election.
And while Page has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with his Moscow visit, it is now drawing increased scrutiny as a result of new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, Gordon and a third campaign official, WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers — a hack that U.S. intelligence later attributed to the Russian government.
No connection between any of those three events has been alleged publicly or confirmed. But on Tuesday, Page confirmed that he is one of about a dozen individuals and organizations contacted by the Senate intelligence committee and asked to preserve relevant materials for its investigation into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
“I will do everything in my power to reasonably ensure that all information concerning my activities related to Russia last year is preserved,” Page said in a letter to Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the committee’s ranking Republican and Democrat.
In his letter, Page again denied any wrongdoing and repeated his claims that former officials of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democrats have been spreading false information about the trip and Page’s other connections to Russia.
Page’s trip to Moscow has been the subject of intense speculation for months, but many of the details remain cloudy.
A longtime oil and energy industry consultant, Page had already spent considerable time in Russia before making the trip, most recently as founder and managing partner of the Global Energy Capital investment and consulting firm, which specializes in Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business.
The firm’s website says Page has been involved in more than $25 billion of transactions in the energy and power sector, and that he spent three years in Moscow where he was an adviser on key transactions for Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom and other energy-related companies.
Page has insisted that he was in Moscow to give a commencement address at the New Economic School in Moscow based on his scholarly research, and that his visit was “outside of my informal, unpaid role” on the Trump campaign. He also said he had divested any stake in Gazprom, and that he had “not met this year with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals.”
But last September, top congressional lawmakers were briefed on suspected efforts by Russia to meddle in the election. Soon after, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked FBI Director James Comey to investigate meetings between a Trump official, later identified as Page, and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow that he believed were evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Trump campaign officials took steps to distance themselves from Page, who had been publicly identified as an adviser as recently as Aug. 24. He announced Sept. 26 that he was taking a leave of absence from the campaign, saying the accusations were untrue but causing too much of a “distraction.”
But even after Russia was linked to the hacking effort against Democrats, the Trump campaign did not seek to question Page about his trip, the campaign adviser said.
Asked what Page did while in Moscow, the adviser said, “I have no idea. I didn’t want to know.”
The adviser also said he was not aware of anyone else on the campaign who discussed the trip with Page, either to glean any foreign policy insight from him, or to determine whether any damage control was needed based on his contacts.
“Nobody talked about it. It was such an ugly topic. Even when I saw him at the convention, I didn’t talk to him about it,” the adviser said, adding that some in the campaign had expressed concern that any public appearances in Moscow by Page would send a bad message.
The campaign fired Lewandowski on June 20, before Page took the trip. Paul Manafort, who replaced Lewandowski as manager and later became chairman, said he had no knowledge of any aspect of Page’s trip, including whether Lewandowski or anyone else approved it.
In recent days, Page’s contact with Russians surfaced again with news reports that he, Gordon and senior Trump campaign adviser Sen. Jeff Sessions all engaged in discussions with Kislyak at an event on the sidelines of the GOP convention.
Page has declined to comment on what they discussed, saying it was private, while Gordon characterized the conversations as harmless efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.
The former campaign adviser on Tuesday said Page and the ambassador had a lengthy discussion and that they were at times joined by Gordon and two other ambassadors from the region. The adviser did not know whether Page or Kislyak initiated the conversation.
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