As with any policy matter in the campaign, foreign policy was whatever Donald Trump said in the moment but Lewandowski wasn't about to say that, knowing what the press reaction would be. He needed to have a group of national security advisors so the media would stop saying they didn't have one. And he was getting pressure from Jared Kushner to fix it fast.
According to their testimony, no one associated with the Trump campaign had a detailed policy discussion with the candidate on any subject, let alone Russia. The Trump you saw on the campaign trail was the private Trump, talking in generalities and not interested in details.
To the extent anyone recalled discussions about Russia it was at the level of wanting Russia's cooperation against ISIS or Steve Bannon's characterization of Trump's view (which he also attributed to Michael Flynn) that "they're an enemy, but somebody that you may be able to work with over time, and you certainly don't want more enemies in the world" (p.34). Discussions were more at the level of what Michael Cohen recounted as his one conversation with Trump about Russia which consisted of him saying, "Did you see that President Putin said some really nice things about me?" (p.140).
Lewandowski decided he needed to "check the box" and move on, so on March 12, 2016 he called Sam Clovis, senior policy advisor and a campaign co-chair. Clovis was an ex-fighter pilot, former Inspector General for NORAD, later a talk show host in Iowa who lost the 2014 primary for the Republican Senate nomination to Jodi Ernst. Sam was initially a Rick Perry supporter, who joined the Trump campaign after Perry dropped out.
Clovis described himself to the committee as a "Classic Cold War warrior" who favored containing Russia and supported Trump because he was a "trade hawk". (p.15). He also dismissed Trump's favorable comments regarding Putin:
". . . I think he was having a lot of fun with the Putin thing" and liked to "play up [the bromance] . . . I just think he really liked poking the media". (p.16)When asked about Trump's foreign policy views, Sam's response was like the others, "I don't think he ever expressed to me definitively what he thought about foreign policy on any level" (p.17), and reinforced what the committee had been hearing from others about thin campaign staffing, "Policy shop was one-deep and it was me." (p.18)
Lewandowski tasked Clovis with putting together a National Security advisory board which would have a short public session with media present and then a one-hour meeting with the President. Other than that it would have no further duties or meetings. Before coming back to what Clovis did next, there are three other Trump associates involved with the advisory board.
Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump and he was asked to chair the board. To the committee, Sessions described his foreign policy views as transitioning in recent years from Wilsonian to realist. His view of the board:
"The committee was not any serious - a group of people authorized to speak for President Trump, and they absolutely weren't authorized to go around the world pretending to represent him". (p.26)Navy veteran Jeff (JD) Gordon served as Pentagon spokesperson for Secretaries Rumsfeld and Gates. Gordon testified he believed Russia was a threat, though it was okay to try to deal with the country, but:
"I think the Obama administration tried to have better relations but for getting nothing in return at all." (52)He was Director of the board and confirmed it was a one-time event.
Rick Dearbon had worked for Senator Sessions since 1996, was his chief of staff, and, as a part-time job, ran the DC policy office for the Trump campaign. (1)
Sessions, Gordon, and Dearborn had never heard of Papadopoulos (I'm just going to call him Papa from here on because I'm tired of typing his full name) and Page before they were recommended by Sam Clovis. And how did Clovis come across them?
Carter Page came to Clovis' attention through Ed Cox, chair of the New York Republican Party and son-in-law of Richard Nixon. Page was a 1993 graduate of the Naval Academy (top 10% in his class) and served five years on active duty. After leaving the service he did a Fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations, got an MBA from NYU, joined Merrill Lynch as an investment banker and was a VP in that firm's Moscow office. He'd left Merrill in 2009 to co-found Global Energy Capital, a little known energy investment firm. Along the way he'd gotten to know Cox who introduced him to Lewandowski, and Clovis met him while visiting Trump Tower in early 2016. (2)
If Page's credentials were thin and definitely not a heavy hitter in the national security arena, those of the 28-year old Papa were virtually nonexistent. He'd been working on Ben Carson's campaign, and cold-called Lewandowski who passed him on to Clovis. Papa had a Masters in Security Studies from University College London and worked as an unpaid intern at the Hudson Institute from 2011 to 2015. In 2015 he'd joined Energy Stream, a small London-based (where Papa was living) energy consultancy.
Lewandowski told Clovis they needed to stop getting beat up by the media and NeverTrumpers and "alleviate some of the press pressure". (p.39) but the problem facing Clovis was that most of the GOP foreign policy establishment wanted nothing to do with Donald Trump. Sam was able to assemble a few people with some experience for the board, Generals Keith Kellogg, Bert Mizusawa, Garry Harrell, Admiral Chuck Kubic, Walid Phares, Joe Schmitz, telling the committee, "That was about all the people we had on a Rolodex that were supportive of the President that had any cachet at all". (p.40) but felt he needed to add a couple more which is when he reached out to Papa and Page. Why he needed more was never explained but it reminds me of this scene from Ocean's 11.
He'd only met Papa on the phone but "He was young, didn't have a lot of experience, but at that point we needed people" (p.41), and later in his testimony added, Papa was "a man on the make" "I thought he was in it for himself, and I didn't think he was in it for the candidate"(p.76) Clovis had a higher opinion of Page though he was "far more . . . favorably disposed to Russia" than himself (p.24), and felt, "he was one of the few people we could find that had a credible enough background that we could put him on that team and would help assauge the press" (p.58), so decided to fill out the board with the two.
Bannon claimed he thought the National Security advisors were weak and told Lewandowski not to do it but he wanted to "check the box and get it out". (p.181) Whether or not Bannon actually said it (I'm skeptical of anything Bannon says), Lewandowski, by his own admission, paid no attention to the advisors and any substance of foreign policy. At one point in his testimony he said he'd had a discussion with President Trump just after the Papadopolous indictment and plea was announced and was asked:
"What did you say to the President about George Papadopolous?"Papa and Page did not impress anybody. In his polite, mannered way, Jeff Session said:
"I said, who the fuck is this guy?" (p.43)
"Well, I didn't feel like either one had - apparently had a background of significance, that would indicate that they had contributions to make."(p.33)Rick Dearborn called Papa:"A volunteer that attended one meeting that wanted to travel and had no access to the candidate other than the one meeting"(p.47) and later wrote an email referring to the pair:
"I've met him once. He has a Carter Page problem. He goes and meets with folks, expresses his views, and then is tagged by the press as our guy". (p.49)Walid Phares, a board member who actually had a reputation and expertise told the committee the other board members wondered why Papa was a member given his lack of experience, and he came to the conclusion that "What he wanted to do is to appear in the campaign as the person who could engage in establishing these relationships". (p.44) Phares went on to say that while Papa and Page's views on Russia were different from those of the rest of the board:
"At that time, discussing international relations and relations with Russia and China or anybody in the world, was not a taboo. It was a normal matter." (p.47)The only meeting of the board took place on March 31 in Washington DC - Carter Page did not attend! The press was invited in and took photos and then left. According to Rick Dearborn there was no agenda and no written summary of the meeting. However, the memory of those attending is consistent. The meeting last for an hour. Trump began by asking each member to introduce themselves and make a short statement but Trump and the second board member to introduce himself, Keith Payne, spent 40 minutes talking nuclear weapons and doctrine and national security philosophy, leaving very little time for the others and any other dialogue. Papa spoke for 90 seconds or two minutes before Sessions shut him down, when Papa raised the possibility of Trump meeting with Putin during the campaign. It was the only time during the meeting when Sessions intervened which he testified he did because Papa was out of line raising the issue.
Though it was the only time Papa and Page were "active" in the campaign, their actions bedeviled Clovis, Gordon, Dearborn and others throughout and then became the hook upon which the entire Russia collusion hoax was pegged.
Papa was ostensibly the reason the FBI commenced the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, based on his conversation with the mysterious Josef Mifsud (we know what he isn't - Russian asset or FBI informant - but we still don't know what Mifsud is) about damaging Clinton emails supposedly possessed by the Russians, a conversation Papa never told anyone on the Trump campaign about (3), and Page was the target of the FISA warrant, a warrant based on allegations he was the lynchpin of the coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Both Page and Papa kept sending emails trying to push the idea of a Trump-Putin meeting but campaign officials either ignored them or fobbed them off with polite excuses. As Lewandowski put it when shown one of Page's emails offering such a meeting:
"I wouldn't have needed Carter Page if Donald Trump wanted to see Vladimir Putin". (p.87)And Clovis said of Papa's proposal for a meeting, "I thought it was a bogus offer" from a self-promoter. (p.88)
As to Papa, Walid Phares impression was "Dr Clovis wanted Papa out of his hair" and and everytime Papa raised a possible Putin meeting "Clovis and JD would say: well it's like dismissive, to we don't need that now". (p.65)
Apart from Papa's conversation with Josef Mifsud (4), the biggest issue was Page's acceptance of an invitation to speak at a conference in Moscow. According to JD Gordon, Carter Page had "zero" role in formulating campaign policy towards Russia and Ukraine. (p60) and told Page the trip to Russia was a "bad idea" but he went around him and got approval from Lewandowski, as long as it was clear he was there on a personal basis, not representing the campaign. Once this became public in September, Page was told to disassociate himself from campaign. Page's Moscow visit allowed the Steele Dossier to paint him as having secret discussions with top Russian officials and Gazprom executives (for which there is no evidence), which was further spun into his alleged role in influencing the Ukraine plank in the GOP platform (something he had nothing to do with).
The association of Papa and Page with the campaign was a disaster both for their lack of substance and for their actions which helped embroil the Trump presidency for three years.
(1) There was a campaign staffer who was linked to Russia in the past. Michael Caputo, NY State primary director for the campaign and then communications director for caucus operations in the lead up to the convention, did business as a political consultant in that country during the 1990s. He told the committee he'd never discussed Russia with anyone in the campaign, "There is a good reason for that. We were running and gunning with our hair on fire". (p. 22) Like others caught up in the collusion hoax, his job prospects suffered and testified that he'd had to liquidate his childrens' college fund to pay for legal representation.
(2) Clovis didn't know that Page was an informant for the FBI and had been frequently debriefed by the CIA regarding his contacts with Russians. The IG Report took the FBI to task for lying to the FISA Court and not informing it of Page's history with the agencies.
(3) Adam Schiff described the contents of this conversation with so much lurid overstatement that even the FBI's Andrew McCabe pushed back, telling him, "The original Papadopolous information wasn't quite that specific". (p38) McCabe also made a revealing statement as to why the FISA Warrant was on Page, even though the original information that came to the FBI regarded Papadopolous, "The Papadopolous comment didn't particularly indicate that he was the person that had had - that was interacting with the Russians". (p.13) This resulted in the peculiar circumstances I noted in a prior post that the FBI Special Agent who handled Steele was informed the dossier was used to corroborate the original information regarding Papadopolous even though the dossier could never be validated, the FBI didn't have enough to get a warrant on Papa, and Papa isn't mentioned in the dossier!
(4) Mifsud approached Papa immediately after the announcement that he was part of the Trump campaign.