Behold the Master Conspirator
It was the bombshell that bombed. The Washington Post reported last week that a Trump campaign adviser, in the middle of last year’s election campaign, had indeed been singled out by the FBI for surveillance as a potential Russian agent.
Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, it was Carter Page, the Walter Mitty of Trump world.
Far be it from me to suggest the FBI was just looking for an easy way to fob off Obama administration pressure to validate its Trump-Russia talking points. Mr. Page had been the target four years earlier of a sad little recruitment effort by Russian spies in New York, who eventually were prosecuted and whose monitored communications referred to Mr. Page as an “idiot.”
He later gave an incoherent speech in Moscow in the middle of the campaign decrying U.S. sanctions. Most of all, he was singularly devoid of influence with either Donald Trump or the Russians, though perhaps not the least likely contender to say something foolish on a “wiretap.”
Most media accounts take for granted his self-description as a player in Russian energy deals, but a lengthy Politico investigation as far back as September found that “nobody in Russia seems to have heard of him.”
So this is the man the FBI selected as the most likely spy in the Trump midst. Which explains a lot—like the deafening silence last week of media organs that so recently had been wetting themselves over tenuous Trump-Russia theories.
Silent was the New York Times columnist who a couple weeks ago jabbered about a “smell of treason.”
Silent was House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, who not long earlier had noisily detected “circumstantial evidence” and “more than circumstantial evidence” of a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy.
But then a lot of pundits and others have lately demonstrated their inability to reason about evidence or even understand what is truly a “coincidence” in the sense of an unlikely confluence of events. The only really interesting evidence has now been debunked by Byron York of the Washington Examiner, who shows that the claim that the Trump forces had weakened a GOP platform critique of Russian actions in Ukraine was simply misinformed.
Mr. Schiff and Mr. Page are fitting sharers of the stage in this episode, with a certain indefinable insubstantiality in common.
Mr. Page attached himself to Candidate Trump, promoter of better relations with Russia, after apparently spending the past decade—since leaving a junior job with Merrill Lynch in Moscow—seeking to insert himself in energy deals in Russia in hopes, as his would-be spy recruiter put it, of “making a lot of money.” If he ever did make any money, it hasn’t shown up in an obvious place—campaign donations. Mr. Page’s one recorded contribution was to John McCain back when Mr. Page still had a job with Merrill.
As for Mr. Schiff, he got the third-time’s-a-charm job back in 1990 of prosecuting a hapless FBI agent for his affair with a Russian spy after two previous attempts ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. Mr. Schiff clearly hopes today to raise his meager profile as one of 53 California congressmen by riding his party’s Trump neurosis to a shot at a U.S. Senate seat.
Appearing recently on the same ABC News show as Mr. Schiff, Sen. Marco Rubio noted puckishly of the Senate’s own investigation: “No one’s out there trying to turn this into a way to get famous.”
Uh huh. No one also doubted Mr. Rubio was accurately summarizing Washington’s fast-hardening consensus on Mr. Schiff.
Few memes have died so sudden a death as the Trump-is-a-Russian-mole meme, with his Syria strike, with his administration publicly accusing Russia of “complicity” in the nerve-gassing of civilians.
The Trump presidency is coming into focus. Astonishing are the headlines pronouncing it “astonishing” that Mr. Trump, facing the pressures, constraints and opportunities that other presidents face, is acting more or less like other presidents. Isn’t this where his admittedly steep learning curve was always likely to lead?
If the House Intelligence Committee wishes to continue its descent into circushood, by all means accommodate Mr. Page—now styling himself a pro-Russia “dissident” whom the Obama administration sought to persecute—and his desire “eagerly” to testify. At least his offending Moscow speech took place after the Crimea grab when it was no longer U.S. policy to promote business dealings with Russia, an important threshold that Democrats anachronistically refuse to acknowledge (and which never applied to Paul Manafort but does apply to the completely ignored Russia dealings of the Podesta brothers).
Then again, the committee might resume its original mission of investigating Russia’s shambolic propaganda efforts in the U.S. election, rather than peddling conspiracy theories about minor members of the Trump entourage.
Appeared in the Apr. 19, 2017, print edition.