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Trump's troika: Manafort, Page, Stone and the rush to Congress

© Photos L to R: Paul Manafort (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images North America/AFP); Roger Stone (Joe Raedle, Getty Images North America/AFP); Carter Page (CNN screen grab)

Text by Khatya CHHOR

Latest update : 2017-04-09

Former Trump advisers Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page all notified the House Intelligence Committee on Friday that they were willing to be interviewed as part of investigations into Russian interference in the November 2016 election.

The House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as the FBI, are investigating whether current or former associates of President Donald Trump co-ordinated with Russian interests to influence the election. Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page are under scrutiny for their contacts with Russian representatives, although all three men deny having any inappropriate interactions with Russian entities. The Trump administration, for its part, has sought to downplay the roles the men played in the effort to win Trump the White House.

The sudden trio of offers to the House Intelligence Committee prompted a new round of speculation that persistent questions about the Trump team’s Russia ties may soon be answered. But those looking for explosive disclosures from their testimony may find themselves disappointed: The informal interviews may not be public and will not be conducted under oath.

Manafort: campaign chairman

The Trump campaign announced in April 2016 that Manafort would be responsible for consolidating Trump's support and running the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. "Mr. Manafort will oversee, manage, and be responsible for all activities that pertain to Mr. Trump’s delegate process and the Cleveland Convention," the campaign said.

The AP revealed last week that Manafort signed a deal with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government”. Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska starting in 2006 and running until at least 2009, according to people familiar with the payments and business records obtained by AP.

It has long been known that Manafort acted as a political adviser to Ukraine’s prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, securing him a second term in 2007 (he was subsequently ousted in pro-EU protests in 2014). Manafort’s past work with the pro-Kremlin Yanukovych led to speculation that he was behind a change made to the GOP's policy on Ukraine that removed a key provision calling for sending “lethal” aid to the Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists in the east. Trump staffers watered down the language to calls for providing “appropriate assistance”.

Manafort resigned in August as campaign chairman after the AP reported that his firm sought to sway US public opinion in favour of Ukraine's pro-Russian government by influencing press coverage. Neither Manafort nor others involved in the effort registered as foreign agents as required by federal law. He left the campaign just a day after the AP report came to light.

Manafort agreed on Friday to “an informal, closed-door discussion” with members of the House Intelligence Committee, the Washington Post reported. While he would not be providing testimony under oath, US law requires witnesses to tell the truth in interviews with Congress.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed to the Washington Post on Friday that he would speak “voluntarily” to the House Intelligence Committee.

“Mr. Manafort instructed his representatives to reach out to committee staff and offer to provide information voluntarily regarding recent allegations about Russian interference in the election,” Maloni said. “[He] looks forward to meeting with those conducting serious investigations of these issues to discuss the facts.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been at pains to minimise Manafort’s links to the campaign. In a March 20 press briefing, White House spokesman Sean Spicer described Trump’s former campaign chief as someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time", a claim Politifact later rated as false.

Roger Stone: campaign adviser

Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone wrote a book on the president’s road to the White House entitled, "The Making of the President 2016".

A longtime friend to Trump, Stone has drawn scrutiny for his admission that he communicated with Guccifer 2.0, the Russian hacker who claimed responsibility for breaking into the Democratic National Committee. US intelligence officials have "high confidence" that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for Russian intelligence operatives.

Stone told Business Insider earlier this month that he had traded messages on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0 but that the exchange was so "brief and banal, I had forgotten it".

The messages themselves indicate that the hacker had offered to “help” Stone. “please tell me if i can help u anyhow,” Guccifer 2.0 wrote on August 17. “it would be a great pleasure to me.”

Stone has also intimated that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a mutual friend, although he denied being in direct contact with Assange.

The timing of some of his tweets have raised the question of whether he knew in advance that WikiLeaks was about to publish emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.

"I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon #LockHerUp," he tweeted on October 3, using a hashtag popular among Trump supporters.

“Payload coming. #Lockthemup," Stone tweeted on October 5. WikiLeaks released a first series of Podesta emails on October 7.

Stone told CNN on Friday that his lawyers had sent a letter to both the House and Senate intelligence committees offering to speak publicly on his alleged ties to Russia.

Stone lawyers' letter to Congress

The letter from his lawyer said that Stone “deeply resents” that members of the House committee “have intimated that he has committed treason in his political, press and social media activities".

As a result, Stone “is eager to voluntarily appear in open session in front of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (the House Intelligence Committee) without the necessity of a subpoena. Mr. Stone is anxious to redress the false and misleading way he has been portrayed by some on the Permanent Select Committee."

Carter Page: foreign policy adviser

Carter Page, who advised Trump and his campaign on foreign policy last year, also wrote to the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican Chairman Devin Nunes and ranking Democratic member Adam Schiff to state his willingness to talk about the Russia probe and "set the record straight".

"I would eagerly welcome the chance to speak with the Committee to help finally set the record straight following the false evidence, illegal activities as well as other lies distributed by certain politically-motivated suspects in coordination with the Obama Administration, which defamed me and other Americans," Page wrote in the letter, which was provided to CNN.

"My preference is that it be public," Page told the network, adding that he had had enough of the "leaks and innuendo".

Page is the founder and managing partner of the Global Energy Capital investment fund and was formerly with Merrill Lynch specialising in the energy sector. He spent three years in Moscow, where he oversaw the opening of a new Merrill Lynch office and advised on key transactions for Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

Page was eager to clarify that he was never a paid adviser for the Trump campaign.

"I was never paid by the Trump campaign and never made any financial contributions to that movement, with the negligible exception of purchasing a few ‘Make America Great Again’ hats and a ‘Veterans for Trump’ button,” he told CNN.

Page travelled to Moscow last July while he was still working with the Trump campaign. He was back in Moscow in early December to meet with businessmen and “thought leaders”, he told Russia’s Sputnik, which noted that “thought leaders” can refer to “government officials or people close to the establishment”.

As reports emerged that several members of the Trump administration had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak throughout the presidential campaign, Page was repeatedly asked by US media about his own dealings with the Russian envoy. After numerous denials over several days, Page admitted to meeting with Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. When Hayes initially asked him whether he had met Kislyak, Page declined to answer, citing “confidentiality”. Finally Page said, “I am not going to deny that I talked with him.”

Trump’s strategic communications director, Hope Hicks, also sought to minimise the extent of Page’s involvement. “He has no formal role in the campaign,” she told Politico.

And yet, “There were whispers all over Washington that, despite Hicks’s denial, Page was not only still part of the Trump campaign, but its conduit for Russian influence,” Politico reported.

Did Flynn flip?

The rush of offers to speak to Congress last Friday prompted questions of whether the three former Trump advisers had coordinated their moves. But when Page was asked if he had synchronised the timing of his letter with Manafort, Page was unequivocal, telling Business Insider that he had "never spoken to Paul Manafort in my life".

When CNN separately asked Stone whether the letters were timed to coincide, Stone said he speaks to Manafort "from time to time" but that the two did not coordinate their offers to Congress.

The troika’s sudden eagerness to speak to lawmakers has renewed expectations that the extent of the Trump team’s Russian ties may soon come to light. But Norman Eisen, who served as Obama’s special counsel on ethics and is now chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, was circumspect about any revelations they might provide.

He noted that Manafort, Page and Stone have already made clear that there are limits to what they are willing to discuss with Congress.

“Offers are easy,” Eisen said in an email. “…The question is, will they actually show up, talk about everything they are asked, and do so under oath? That remains to be seen.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for former US president George W. Bush, noted that such informal testimony carries fewer ramifications if a witness chooses to dissemble.

“Lying to Congress in any setting is a criminal offense but a lesser crime if not under oath (perjury), so less exposure to serious criminal liability,” he said.

Moreover, Painter said that with voluntary testimony, “one can more easily decide what to decline to talk about than in a formal hearing under subpoena”.

Eisen went on to say the fact that former national security adviser Michael Flynn has not made a similar offer to be interviewed “raises the question of whether he has cut a deal” already with the FBI or the Department of Justice.

Flynn resigned in February after it was revealed that he discussed US sanctions with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December in possible violation of the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from engaging in diplomacy. Flynn held no official position at the time. US officials said he subsequently misled the White House on the nature of his talks with Kislyak.

If Flynn has indeed agreed to provide information to US authorities it would indicate that the FBI or Department of Justice is collecting evidence against other members of Trump's inner circle, or even Trump himself.

Date created : 2017-03-28


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