It’s fair to say that we know the precise moment when Carter Page went from being an ordinary citizen into a person of intense interest for foreign policy experts and intelligence services around the world. That moment came in the first minute of Donald Trump’s interview with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21st, 2016.
After some very brief hellos the publisher of the Post, Frederick Ryan Jr., said he had learned that Trump was planning to announce his foreign policy team soon and wondered if he’d be willing to give them a scoop.
RYAN: Thank you… We’ve heard you’re going to be announcing your foreign policy team shortly… Any you can share with us?
TRUMP: Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names… Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.
If you listen to the audio of the interview, you’ll discover that the transcript isn’t very precise, but it’s not inaccurate in any meaningful way. Right after you hear Trump say that he can provide some of the names, you’ll here him ask an aide (possibly Hope Hicks) for a list of his foreign policy advisers so “I can be a little more accurate with that.”
And then you can hear him uncrinkle the list and read haltingly from it, almost as if he’s seeing the list for the first time. You’ll notice that he only names five people before assuring the editors that “we have many more.”
Carter Page immediately stood out for two reasons. First, there was a decent chance that at least some of the editors were familiar with the other names on the list. There was virtually no chance that any of them knew Page. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg needed no introduction, but Trump provided some identifying information about Walid Phares, George Papadopulos, and Joe Schmitz. All he said about Page was that he had a Ph.D.
Of course, the editors could use the Google, but that wouldn’t have been very helpful in Page’s case. All they would have found were old articles that indicated he was a flack or lobbyist for the Kremlin. He did serve on the Council of Foreign Relations for a time, but it’s not clear how he got that gig either.
We’ll probably be talking about this for a while because Page is going to be testifying before Congress about a lot of things. What can get lost is that the other members on the list Trump provided that day were scary as hell.
It’s my understanding that Jeff Sessions and some of his staffers were responsible for creating Trump’s foreign policy team, if not necessarily this list. But it’s hard to see what ties this group together beside a real animosity for Islam. For example, among other alarming things, Schmitz wrote a book titled Sharia: The Threat to America. Papadopulos is more experienced in trying to get Israelis to bypass Turkey’s natural gas pipelines and use Cyprus instead because Islamists have turned Turkey into “a regional menace.” And Walid Phares has been writing books about jihad for more than a decade now. The national legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Abed Ayou, said of Phares, “If you look at his history, he was a warmonger and he shouldn’t be near the White House. He was part of a [Christian Lebanese] militia that committed war crimes and, if anything, he should be tried for war crimes.”
At the time, I thought these were just the dregs that would agree to associate their names with Trump’s name. But that still never explained Carter Page.