A Conversation with Carter Page
Jeff Jetton | Mar 13, 2017 | 12:00PM |

Words By Jeff Jetton, Photos By Jason Minyo

After chatting with Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin and before appearing on MSNBC, we continued to ask Carter Page some questions about Russia, political opponents and optics.

For an extensive Q&A with Page and Graffin, read Greg Graffin and Carter Page on Population Wars.

Jeff Jetton: I like to figure this stuff out from the sources rather than through the filter of, as you call it, mainstream media, some people say fake news. I want to know a little more about…

Carter Page: Let me give you a brief summary of the ten minute conversation I had where I was back and forth with a major reporter at a major news agency just now. You’ve seen the headlines today…

Attorney General Sessions, the allegations about conversations he may have had with the Russian Ambassador. It’s been sort of non-stop. Two quick points, I don’t talk about internal discussions I had in the campaign, just in the interest of, I’m public enemy number one now, thanks to what you read in my letter. Mrs. Clinton kind of portrayed me as the bad guy, given the fact that I had the closest relationship with the Russians. Based on my work, and the fact that I worked in the Pentagon previously, doing U.S./Russian Arms Control Negotiations. It’s something I’ve done for the majority of my life, since 1993 when I graduated from the Naval Academy. So, you know, I don’t talk about, I don’t want to sully others people’s names. By sort of saying, you know, it leads to another nine million questions, to other people, to ‘well what about this guy Carter Page, he says he knows you’. So I don’t go there.

JJ: I don’t want to spin things certain ways. I just want to know more what the issues are about without getting into the politics of the issues. What is Gazprom? And what is Rosneft? I think there are a lot of people out there that don’t even know that. And if you haven’t developed a basic foundation of what these things are and even who you are, I’ve never seen anyone ask you where you’re from or things like that.

CP: You’re so correct.

JJ: It’s a convenient narrative: you need a bad guy, you need a good guy. Cops and robbers are good example of that, right? Without robbers, you don’t need cops. And sometimes the cops are the bad guys. Anyways I basically want to understand things like of course who are you? I want to know that. On a personal level you seem interesting and you seem nice. But what is Rosneft? And what is Gazprom?

CP: Rosneft and Gazprom, respectfully, are the two largest oil and gas companies in Russia. They are, I’m not sure the exact state… but I believe Rosneft is either majority owned by the Russian government or significantly owned by the Russian government, they’ve been going through various privatization processes. Part of the reason that there’s a, uh, controversy about me here, which I’ll dig into in a minute. But part of it is state-owned, part of it is international and Russian investors…

JJ: For better or for worse…

CP: Well you know it’s funny some of the largest pension funds in the world are investors in each of those companies. It’s publicly available information, I’m not sure what’s what. If you go to Yahoo Finance or other databases it’s pretty public information. So basically Gazprom is on the gas side, Rosneft is on the oil side. Gazprom is more dominant in the natural gas sector than Rosneft. Well, that may be a more subjective point as well. But there’s a lot more diverse range of other large Russian oil companies as well. But again, Rosneft is most prominent. As Gazprom is on the gas side. So, in terms of myself, similar to Greg, we sort of have different sides of our brains which we’ve gotten into activities we’ve gotten into in life so which various synergies between the two sides. And myself…

JJ: Renaissance men they used to call it.

CP: I won’t claim such a great title but, you know the primary driver for me and why did I get involved in Russia? When I was growing up in the 1980’s I came in off the street on my skateboard and I watched the summit meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev where they are negotiating arms control treaties to decrease nuclear weapons. I thought this is the beginning of a new era and something that’s of the highest significance and importance for the future of both of our respective countries and also the world, just given the threat. I was very motivated by that and it was something that really inspired me. Watching one of the summit meetings between the two leaders of the Soviet Union and the U.S., I saw a couple of Naval officers standing behind the president. U.S. Naval officers, and I thought that’s interesting, maybe that’s some kind of way of getting involved and helping out. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to the Naval Academy. So I ended up doing that, I was a political science honors major. I was always interested in politics and international relations. Like I mentioned, I was an intern for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, liberal Senator from New York. My senior year I was chosen for this fellowship called the Trident Program where you do independent research. And I studied Strategic Defense Initiative, the STI program that Reagan did. Talking about the links between congress and how secrecy determines the decision making process for the respective branches of government and affects decision-making. I wrote a long piece on that, which has interesting overlaps with questions that everyone is talking about today.

(Note: From Steve Frantzich, Carter’s advisor on the above paper at the Naval Academy: “It has been a long time. What I do remember is that it shook up some of the Navy folks who did not like the access and information he got indicating the clear political aspects of procurement. An admiral (I believe his name was Johnson) came over to his oral presentation and confronted him as to how he got the information. Carter was a very resourceful student who got an internship on the Hill (I believe it was the Armed Services committee) and made some close acquaintances. Whatever one thinks of his politics, Carter is a very bright and capable individual.”)

But I graduated and it turns out the guy I was working for my senior year was Les Aspin. I graduated in 1993 and halfway through my senior year was the election of Bill Clinton. And sure enough Bill Clinton asked him to be his first Secretary of Defense. So basically all the people I was working with ended up heading over to the Pentagon.

I served five years in the Navy and then went to the Council on Foreign Relations but I continued to study regional issues related to this area… Caspian Sea region. So, which is kind of the stans… Khazakhstan, Turkemenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbazhan (incoherent)… So I served my five years in the Navy and I got out and got into business. While I was at the Council on Foreign Relations I was working on my MBA, again similar to Greg, even when I was at the Academy, while I was studying, part of my brain was into doing real work. I was doing things on Capitol Hill while I was still a student. At the Pentagon, I did my Master’s at Georgetown. Did my MBA while I was at Council on Foreign Relations, 98-99. And then going for the PhD, I did that while I was a banker in Moscow.

JJ: How long did you live in D.C.?

CP: I was only there a year and a half.

JJ: And then you moved to Moscow?

CP: No, I finished my five year term in the military, mostly in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. And then I got the fellowship here at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. And then I was a banker, started in London, moved in 2004 to Moscow, although my bank didn’t have an office in Moscow, it was the fastest growth market in the world, and so me and another guy went over there to open up the office.

JJ: So you understand the complexity of Russia way more than the average American? I try and stay informed and I try to catch up on, lately, I don’t think people have done that, they just… we live in this post-Cold War mindset. It’s been what forty years? I think people sort of still assume they’re the bad guys.

CP: Well there was the era of Reagan that I was alluding to. But then there was a warming for a while. I think what’s often forgotten is, you know, that Washington has made a lot of mistakes too. And there were various missteps. They were talking on Morning Joe on MSNBC this morning and some of the other networks about NATO enlargement. Basically the Soviet Union ends, we have NATO covering Western Europe and then so starting with the reunification of Germany, which was a small NATO enlargement which was moving NATO into East Germany. And then in 1999, the first major NATO enlargement occurred with Poland, Hungary…

JJ: And that’s threatening to Russia?

CP: Well I’ve written about this, put yourself in the other guys shoes. Imagine, say the Soviet Union won the Cold War and the U.S. lost. And there was a thing called the Warsaw Pact which was an alliance between Moscow and sort of satellite states. States in Eastern Europe. So let’s say Soviet Union wins the Cold War. 1990’s they decide well let’s make Canada and Mexico members of the Warsaw Pact. You can imagine how that might make go, especially given the circular mindset in Washington, which is always very confrontational. So I think viewing things from other peoples’ mindset is always useful. And the term that’s always used to describe me and some other people that have sort of a pro-engagement viewpoint towards Moscow is, we’re called ‘apologists’. We’re apologists for Moscow’s position. And to the contrary, it’s just finding normal solutions.

JJ: Well I think that the problem in a vacuum it makes sense, it’s easily explainable. But the interference with the election. I don’t necessarily think it effected the outcome. Hillary Clinton lost for a number of reasons, but the interference with the election, even if the effect was minuscule, I always talk about these things in terms of PR, the interference with the election and the timing of that is really detrimental to the situation you are talking about, [and would like to see]. In the opposite effect of the way a lot of people like you would like to see. Because now how can you lift those sanctions? How could Trump ever lift those sanctions.

CP: Let’s talk about the impact of those quote/unquote interferences. So a way of thinking about it is… compare the impact of that interference versus the interference and the steps that Hillary Clinton’s campaign took against myself and some of my colleagues. A way to look at it is material non-public information. What came out? It was information in each of those two instances. In terms of the issue that you’re referring to, yes, okay what came out? It was some non-public information. So admittedly that is non-public information. That is… things that were not known, some information came out on that. Think about the same thing, also some non-public information came out against me in the national media. The difference is, that fake dossier that came out? It was completely made up. Made up by the Clinton campaign.

JJ: Two things, I would say. Hillary Clinton lost so it doesn’t really matter, right?

CP: Well it does.

JJ: To you.

CP: No, hold on, if we are talking about impact, having influence on the election, the shadow or the clouds that were over the Trump and his organization? To my point, these clouds continue to this day. And this is kind of a negative…

JJ: On the Trump administration or you?

CP: Both. You know I’m nothing, I’m no one, who cares? I may, Mrs. Clinton, you know some of their policies and steps have led to a lot of death around the world. I lost my friend Chris Stephens. He’s the guy who lost his life in Benghazi, Libya.

JJ: Okay?

CP: So on that level in terms of the information, it is much more, you know it is, okay there’s non public information in both instances but the information against me was illegally given to the government. False evidence which is obstruction of justice, is something that she gave to the government.

JJ: But when you lose, it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s like making fun of the handicapped kid on the playground.

CP: So hold on, when you look at the TV, when you turn the TV from ESPN to MSNBC it’s non-stop. It’s been on all night since yesterday. And going back weeks and months now against, you know, this stupid Russia issue. Which is completely made up by these lies. Which again, it’s a criminal offense. To give false evidence in legal proceedings is criminal activity.

JJ: Okay, I agree with you that when you give false evidence that’s a prosecutable offense. In the context of the Trump administration, why isn’t there a consensus that the public is owed an understanding of what was false and within the administration why isn’t there a, “yeah this is bullshit let’s try this under a congressional investigation or whatever to prove that Hillary Clinton and/or the Democrats or whoever they are saying is behind it, to prove that they are a bunch of assholes who are making shit up.” That’s the disconnect that I don’t understand.

CP: One disclaimer, I’m not speaking for them. Based on these lies, I decided that I’m stepping away from the campaign since last September.

JJ: I’m just going through all this in my head going, “What the fuck is going on?” because I don’t know. And the American public doesn’t know. Some of them don’t care but a lot of people do.

CP: It’s a big game. There’s articles in the New York Times, articles in the Wall Street Journal and major newspapers saying, “Well, the FBI is looking into this, saying there’s questions.” So it’s enough to kind of, even though its completely baseless…

JJ: Now when you say it’s completely baseless….

CP: There’s this one guy from California congressmen named Swalwell. He put in an act to spend four million dollars on this investigation…

JJ: What’s wrong with that. I don’t understand.

CP: It is a complete waste. If there’s anything substantial…

JJ: Our government wastes a lot of money on a lot of dumb shit, but if there is…

CP: I’m just saying…

JJ: I don’t understand, if someone said some bullshit about me, I would want to sue them for defamation and prove in the court of that what they are saying is bullshit. And that’s why…

CP: I guess my point is, Jeff, and this is my own personal perspective, when you go through that process, it is a painful process.

JJ: I agree.

CP: In terms of cost/benefit analysis, okay four million bucks let’s just pour that money down the sink.

JJ: We’ve gotten to a fever pitch here where this isn’t going to go away. Even if it’s false or not. And if it is, Republicans do the same thing and Democrats do the same thing. It’s politics and I don’t like it. But at the end of the day once there is public awareness of this, you have to get to the bottom of it. But what happens now, in terms of sanctions, things like that?

CP: This goes back to, let me finish a thought in terms of comparing the real influence on the election. And that’s materiality. Nothing, you know, okay the Russians… they may or… may not have… let’s assume… you know there may be some evidence… that they tried to influence… by giving this… information… on Wikileaks.

Let’s look at what we learned from Wikileaks. We learned that the Clinton’s are dishonest. That’s something that was pretty well established a long time ago. There’s no surprise there. Let’s think about materiality from the Trump team’s perspective and myself. You know, by putting all these lies with their private investigator.

JJ: Michael Steele? Christopher Steele. Spy dude. Pee-gate.

CP: That is something that really did have a negative impact on me. And it just puts a shadow, you see the impact, the point I was making here gets more proved every day. And if you look at the New York Times article today that we were referring to, that the Obama administration was creating a trail. There was a quote in there where they kind of mentioned a couple of reasons why they did it. Really the bottom line is, the main reason they did it, is to discredit the Trump administration. Case in point, maybe this goes to your prior question. President Trump either last week or the week before he had that long press conference. 120 minutes or 80 minute long press conference. A good chunk of that was wasted with these stupid questions asking these same old conspiracy theories. The question here, the question is…

JJ: How do you stop that? It doesn’t go away. It’s not because of the media. It’s because a certain subset of the population want to know.

CP: It is driven by the media.

JJ: The media is driven by what people want to know. Because if it was some mundane issue on tax reform. People wouldn’t give a shit and they wouldn’t click on it.

CP: I agree, but there’s a cost. Real knowledge, real information versus this joke process which makes…

JJ: I’m not arguing this. I’m arguing to the administration… to what’s his face, Chaffetz. Do an investigation. And if there is nothing to investigate, then everyone shuts up and moves on to whatever.

CP: Let’s have that conversation. Because that is going to be, based upon the kind of core principles we’re talking about, they’re going to go down with…

JJ: Egg on their face?

CP: It’s going to prove what a sham this was to begin with and it’s going to prove how corrupt the entire system had gotten. If you roll back the tape, and Oliver Stone touches on this and Bryan Cranston did a documentary on this, the relationship between LBJ and Martin Luther King Jr.

JJ: The dossier.

CP: That’s the exact same thing they’ve done to me. Here’s the difference, it’s interesting putting it in historical perspective. J. Edgar Hoover, who was pretty infamous for some of his political tactics coming after people. There’s a bit of trading places thing going on. If you watch the movie, J. Edgar Hoover was the one doing these illegal moves and civil rights abuses. In this instance the roles are flipped. It’s actually the executive branch of government or the politicians including Capitol Hill who are pushing for the FBI to go into these investigations against private citizens like myself. Again, false evidence, criminal activity. Which is obstruction of justice.

JJ: Who is saying it about you?

CP: All the political opponents.

JJ: You’re being tried in the media. Let me try to explain it. You gave a speech which you sent me the contents of, but that you met with someone and you were offered the brokerage fee on the 19% sale of not Gazprom but the sale of Rosneft, that went to, that didn’t end up, what was it selling it to Trump?

CP: That was the accusation. But what actually ended up happening, I can’t remember how much background I’ve given you on this…

JJ: What I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, the sale didn’t end up going through you, it was brokered by someone else to an organization in the Cayman Islands and something to do with Singapore…

CP: No, not Singapore, you’re confusing it.

JJ: Malaysia? (Note: it was Singapore, where Carter said he had just spent the last week for investor meetings)

CP: Basically it was Glencore, one of the largest trading companies in the world, they bought the 19.5% stake in Rosneft. So what’s interesting about Glencore, it was founded by a gentleman named Mark Rich. He broke the sanctions against Iraq. He was under legal threat for a long time. Last day of Bill Clinton’s administration, 2001, he gives him a pardon. So what’s suspicious about that? Well, one of the big people that was funding the Clinton Library, before they had the Clinton Foundation, this was their pay to play, this was their earlier baby steps in the pay to play world. You scratch my back…

JJ: Is that illegal?

CP: Well. There was… uhh… I sent you, uhh, even the New York Times said it undermined the pursuit of justice… So they said that about Bill… And then there was this long, 120-page document about the hearings that came out of that…

JJ: This all ties back to the sanctions and the idea that somebody would benefit from the sanctions being lifted. And basically insider trading? Is that right?

CP: The idea is that Rosneft… Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft. He was under sanctions.

JJ: So what happens now? The ideal scenario for Russia is that sanctions are lifted on Russia. And the U.S. has normalized ties with Russia. But from my understanding the 500-pound elephant is the Ukraine. Russian invasion of Crimea.

CP: Well there’s a lot of misunderstanding, but you’re sort of in line with conventional wisdom so far. 9 times out 10 when you hear the basic reporting they say full stop Russia took Crimea. So what led to that process? You know there was a referendum in Crimea. I forget the actual number but north of 90% were in favor of joining Russia. So let’s rewind the tape a little bit. Everyone kind of starts in 2014, if you roll back the tape a little further to late 2013 there was the Maidon Revolution in Ukraine. The U.S. government, particularly a woman named Victoria Nuland, who is close affiliation with Mrs. Clinton as well. You talk about influence on democratic processes over here, she’s in the streets during this big revolution, kind of encouraging the protesters, the revolutionaries. Handing out cookies. Which started this big chaos in the country to begin with.

JJ: Handing out cookies?

CP: Well but she’s supporting… actually Petro Porshenko is quoted, he specifically alludes to her support… Just comparing like for like and real impact on Democratic processes…

JJ: That Clinton talk is Monday morning quarterbacking again. Hillary Clinton is, for all intents and purposes, she’s done.

CP: She’s done but what you saw on the news is all about this issue. They are prosecuting the election on behalf of the losing side is all I’m saying.

JJ: All I’m saying is so fucking what. People get caught in it maybe, like you. But…

CP: In the 80 minute press conference I was referring to Donald Trump said… Like Reince Priebus his chief of staff. He spends about half his time dealing with these false allegations.

JJ: Well I think the other thing that suffers from that is the ability to get policy done in this particular issue. With Russia specifically, with the Ukraine, it’s tainted now, forever. Well for a much longer period of time.

CP: If you roll back the tape. The point that all of President Trump’s then opponents were making is that he is naïve. He’s a dreamer. Obama wanted to do that. George W. Bush wanted to that. All these presidents want to do that. They failed. A lot of this is to prove, I told you so. He was always destined to fail. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

JJ: Carter. Carter. The one country that had an impact on the election? The one country? It’s the one he wants to normalize relations with? Pick any other country. Iran. North Korea. It’s just really bad optics.

This interview took place Friday, March 3, 2017. It has been edited for clarity.