Michael Isikoff of Yahoo had a big story last Friday that got major play, probably because it feeds into the dumb narrative that Donald Trump is a Russian stooge being run by Vladimir Putin. To be clear, Trump is a cretinous, scary clown who is being played by Putin but the idea that he’s a Russian agent is stupid and is being furiously peddled by Democratic Party operatives (and the media) as they desperately try to salvage Hillary’s floundering campaign.
The story focused on unofficial Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, “who has extensive business interests in Russia.” It said unnamed U.S. intelligence officials were “seeking to determine whether [Page] has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials — including talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president, according to multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue.”
The story suggested a lot — some unidentified people were “taken aback” about Page’s activities with one source saying his actions “could undercut U.S. foreign policy” and that they were being “actively monitored and investigated.” Meanwhile, a senior U.S. law enforcement official “did not dispute” the Yahoo story’s narrative and said Page’s Russkie contacts were closely “being looked at.”
And here is a TERRIFYING fact Isikoff tossed in: Page, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker in Moscow, runs a New York consulting firm called Global Energy Capital that brokers oil and gas deals and it is — OMG!!!! — located “around the corner from Trump Tower.”
So that’s it, case closed. If elected, Comrades Trump and Page will work hand in hand with Vlad to destroy America.
There are a few problems here — and let’s put aside Hillary Clinton’s own deep ties to very dubious Russian oligarchs (which will be the subject of a future story here at Washington Babylon). First, is that U.S. sanctions against Russian officials have been of dubious value and some were imposed due to flagrantly, dishonest political considerations at the behest of a shady Western billionaire who grew rich in Russia under Putin (and which will also be the topic of a future story here).
More to the point, I know some of what Page has been up to and Isikoff’s story is at least partly misleading. In fact, part of what Page was doing could be seen as advancing U.S. national security interests and these activities were almost certainly known, and approved of, by U.S. intelligence officials.
In his story, Isikoff says that yet more (or the same) U.S. officials have “received intelligence reports” that Page has met with Igor Sechin, “a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy prime minister who is now the executive chairman of Rosneft, Russian’s leading oil company.” This is “especially problematic,” U.S. officials tell Isikoff, because in 2014 the Treasury Department put Sechin on a list of Russian officials sanctioned over Russia’s “illegitimate and unlawful actions in the Ukraine.”
(Ukraine is yet another badly told story in the American media, which naively views Russia’s allies as evil and its so-called “pro-Western” opponents as principled reformers. Both sides are thieves and the struggle there is essentially a battle between competing sections of the oligarchy. Beyond that, Ukraine borders Russia and, like it or not, it viewed NATO expansion and Western efforts to woo Ukraine into its camp as a threat to its national security interests. The idea that it wasn’t going to merely stand by while all this happened is as dumb as to think that the U.S. would calmly watch Russia aggressively work to take over Western Canada. And yes, sigh, of course Putin is awful, as should go without saying.)
Anyway, maybe Page met with Sechin and other Russians to plot a Kremlin alliance with Donald Trump, which one could easily conclude from Isikoff’s account. Personally, I doubt it.
Here’s the deal.
For years, Page has indeed been working with Rosneft and other Russian oil companies, but one thing Isikoff didn’t mention is that Rosneft has partnered with American oil companies. For example, in August 2011, Rosneft and ExxonMobil “concluded a strategic cooperation agreement to establish the framework for joint oil exploration and production in Russia, the United States and other countries.”
There’s no mention of this cooperation in Isikoff’s story, which puts Page’s actions in a considerably less nefarious light. And OK, Rosneft was hit with sanctions few years back but ExxonMobil deemed it a suitable partner so it’s not a rogue player in the industry. I’m pretty sure ExxonMobil, along with Putin, would also like to see sanctions lifted against its partner and would be happy to work with the Russain company again.
Isikoff also notes that Page is an investor in another Russia energy firm, Gazprom. Here’s what he left out, and maybe didn’t know, but either way it totally conflicts with his international espionage thriller storyline.
Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of Gazprom, entered into production consortiums for two fields in Iraqi Kurdistan, home to the U.S.’s major allies in Iraq. Other Russian oil companies have avoided Kurdistan so as not to antagonize the Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad.
It looks like Gazprom Neft’s Kurdish venture was brokered in part by Page, and that would not likely have been opposed by the U.S. government. The Kurds have fought hard against ISIS and prevented the group from rolling into Baghdad a few years back. But they have had hard time fighting because they are cashed starved — the Baghdad government has worked hard to keep the Kurdish Regional Government from exporting oil — and because the U.S. government has funneled aid to the Kurds through Baghdad, which has refused to deliver most of it.
Isikoff omitted a bunch of other details that would have muddied up his storyline. To name just one, Page has close ties to the crooked Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, who is in the pro-Western faction and who has extremely close ties to Hillary Clinton, and is a big donor to her family foundation. Pinchuk helped Page get business in Russia, but somehow Isikoff didn’t conclude that that makes Hillary a Putin flunky. (Which, of course, she’s not.)
Anyway, Isikoff reported some interesting facts and Page may not be an angel, but he seems like a run-of-the-mill U.S. businessman chasing up deals in Russia and there are plenty of those, including a lot of investment bankers who support Hillary. His story blew things out of proportion and is just one more example of the vulgarly politicized coverage of Election 2016.