The sketchy past of the man at the center of the Republicans’ memo obsession

Carter Page, an unlikely choice for American hero.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 12, 2016: Carter Page, Global Energy Capital LLC Managing Partner and a former foreign policy adviser to U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, makes a presentation titled " Departing from Hypocrisy: Potential Strategies in the Era of Global Economic Stagnation, Security Threats and Fake News" during his visit to Moscow. CREDIT: Artyom Korotayev/TASS
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 12, 2016: Carter Page, Global Energy Capital LLC Managing Partner and a former foreign policy adviser to U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, makes a presentation titled " Departing from Hypocrisy: Potential Strategies in the Era of Global Economic Stagnation, Security Threats and Fake News" during his visit to Moscow. CREDIT: Artyom Korotayev/TASS

The infamous Republican House Intelligence Committee memo, which alleges abuses by the FBI in its investigation of the Trump campaign, is expected to be released very soon.

To regular viewers of Hannity, this is the most monumental event since the moon landing. The rest of America, meanwhile, may be wondering what this is all about. It really comes down to one question: Was an obscure Trump adviser named Carter Page a legitimate subject of FBI surveillance, or was he targeted improperly?

For many, Americans the answer to this question is: I don’t really care. For everyone else, please read on.

The memo seeks to discredit Mueller by linking his investigation to the Steele dossier

According to reports, surveillance on Page was approved twice — once in 2016, and again in the spring of last year with the involvement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is now overseeing the Mueller investigation. Surveillance is authorized by making a submission to a special court, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.

Though the memo has yet to be released, its core argument, according to multiple reports, is that the FBI authorized this surveillance based on the Steele dossier, a document prepared by a former British spy. The dossier was paid for, in part, through an attorney who was hired by the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

Steele is an experienced and respected intelligence operative; his research lays out a number of shocking allegations about the connections between members of the Trump campaign, including Carter Page, and Russian operatives.

But the connection to the Clinton campaign makes the dossier completely illegitimate, in the eyes of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his allies. Anything connected to the dossier, including the entire investigation into the Trump campaign — which ultimately was turned over to special council Robert Mueller — is the fruit of a poisonous tree.

“It’s clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counterintelligence investigation during an American political campaign,” Nunes said on Wednesday.

The aim of the memo was confirmed by CNN, which reported on Thursday morning that Trump believes “the highly controversial Republican memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance tools could help discredit the Russia investigation.”

What is (likely) not in the memo about Carter Page

Was the Steele dossier the sole basis to justify the surveillance? Based on what we know about Page, this is very unlikely. Page “has been known to U.S. counterintelligence officials dating back to at least 2013, nearly three years before he joined the Trump campaign.”

In 2013, Page met repeatedly with Victor Podobnyy, who was posing as “a junior attaché at the Russian consulate.” In 2015, Podobnyy was charged with “posing as a U.N. attaché under diplomatic cover while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source.” Eventually, Pododnyy was granted diplomatic immunity and left the country. Page, described in the criminal complaint as “Male-1,” has confirmed his relationship with Podobnyy and admitted that he provided him with documents.

After Page joined the Trump campaign, he continued his interactions with Russian officials, including two trips to Moscow. On his trips, he had contact with the deputy prime minister of Russia and a senior official at a state-run oil company. He delivered a speech to a Russian audience that was highly critical of U.S. foreign policy. Upon his return, he emailed Trump campaign officials, eager to tell them about “incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”

Page left the campaign in September due to rising concerns about his ongoing connections to Russia.

The memo may make it seem like the Steele memo was the primary or sole basis for surveillance of Page, but the reality is almost certainly far more complicated.

Who would have to be involved in the Carter Page conspiracy

According to reports, the application to the FISA court laid out evidence that “Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow.”

The application has to be approved by a federal judge. Although almost all of these applications are approved, there is a high evidentiary standard that must be met, particularly for U.S. persons.

Furthermore, the FBI released a statement yesterday saying the memo is incomplete and inaccurate.

The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.

With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.

Remember, Trump fired the old FBI director, James Comey, and handpicked Christopher Wray to lead the agency. Wray is not part of an anti-Trump conspiracy.

Any supposed political conspiracy to railroad Carter Page would need to involve not only the FBI and the Deputy Attorney General, who was appointed by Trump, but also a federal judge sworn to uphold the Constitution.