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UPDATED: Boris Epshteyn has denied some parts of this story, which I report within the text.
Sources with links to the intelligence community say it is believed that Carter Page went to Moscow in early July carrying with him a pre-recorded tape of Donald Trump offering to change American policy if he were to be elected, to make it more favorable to Putin. In exchange, Page was authorized directly by Trump to request the help of the Russian government in hacking the election.
On November 7th I reported that the FBI had been granted a FISA warrant to investigate the activities of two Russian banks, Alfa Bank and Silicoln Valley Bank. I also reported that an earlier attempt to obtain a FISA warrant, in June, had failed in the court because it named Donald Trump himself and three of his associates. In an exclusive at Patribotics, I reported that these named associates were Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Boris Epshteyn.
Sources close to the intelligence community now report that this application was made because a recording exists of all three men discussing the possibility of Page taking the tape of Trump to Moscow as an earnest of good faith. (Update: Mr. Epshteyn has denied he is on any such recording, but I am not sure if he is denying the conversation took place and have asked his lawyers to clarify). There is a minor dispute over whether Trump himself is also on that tape, as well as the tape that was delivered to Moscow by Carter Page of Trump making this promise. A separate source with links to the intelligence community reported to me several months ago that Boris Epshteyn, alone of the four men named in the first FISA application, is an actual FSB agent (he has strenuously denied this). Paul Manafort is registering as an agent of a foreign power [update: he has yet to do so]; Carter Page has admitted, from public reporting, to have met with Russian intelligence agents.
It may therefore be surmised that Page, Manafort and Epshteyn, in this conversation wherein they discussed taking the Trump tape to Moscow, were all acting in concert as agents of the Russian state first and foremost, and Trump staffers second. Because the provision of such a tape to Putin would clearly be the ultimate in kompromat on a future American President (far worse than any sexual blackmail tape).
The FISC judge, as I reported, rejected that application, made in June. Director Comey likely proved to the satisfaction of the court that Page, Manafort and Epshteyn were acting as Russian agents. But he may have felt that Trump, by now the nominee, was just a very stupid patsy. And the planned trip had not taken place.
Director Comey redrew this request and presented FISC with a new warrant application. The Washington Post says that there is a FISA warrant on Page, but it does not say that there is NOT a FISA warrant on the other two men named in the June application. I will therefore assume from now on that the July FISA warrant granted targets Page, Manafort and Epshteyn.
Page had always seemed weirdly confident about his relationship with Trump. He had the tape of Mr. Trump offering to change policy. Sources say that this tape was played in meetings with Russian intelligence officers in Moscow, and that several Western intelligence sources have recordings of the meetings and the tape which they supplied to US intelligence.
The Washington Post does not name the date in July when Director Comey obtained his warrant. It seems likely however that it would not have been before July 5-8, when Page was in Russia. Furthermore, my own story on the separate FISA warrant granted on the two Russian banks states that Director Comey specifically sought permission to examine existing transcripts and intercepts on US persons as they related to this inquiry into money laundering into the Trump campaign.
My November 7th report directly connects the granting of the banking warrant to election hacking of the DNC. It is fair to say that, at the time of writing, I did not understand precisely how these two matters were connected. I now know and have reported that the server was washing databases of DNC hacked materials with voter registration materials. It is clear that, if my sources were correct, Director Comey would not have been able to listen to the recording of Mr. Trump played by Mr. Page in the offices of Russian intelligence in Moscow until he obtained that warrant, in October; his July warrant on Page came too late to affect a trip on July 5-7th.
When Carter Page returned to the RNC in Cleveland, he and Jeff Sessions, who recruited him to Team Trump via the Alfa Bank lobbyist Richard Burt, both met with the Russian spymaster Sergei Kislyak. From public reporting, we know that they not only changed the RNC platform on Ukraine at the behest of Russia, but also discussed lifting sanctions, a violation of the Logan Act.
Mr. Epshteyn was probably also present at that meeting. [Update – Mr. Epshteyn has issued a denial that he is an FSB agent, and has denied “meeting with Russian spymaster” Sergei Kislyak, as I have described the Ambassador. It is unclear to me from the wording of the letter whether he is denying that he ever met with Mr. Kislyak, or that Mr. Kislyak is a spymaster; I am seeking clarification]. The reason I say this is that I can personally report that Mr. Epshteyn, whom I had met several times in the green room at Fox News, and I, had a bet on – I bet him $100 that the Republican Party would not actually nominate the racist and sexist Donald Trump.
I lost that bet and made a point of texting Mr. Epshteyn at the conference to pay up. He was charming. I handed over the $100. He went back to Mr. Trump’s private suite.
I now realize that I was probably giving money directly to an agent of Russia (at Mr. Epshteyn’s request, I have changed this from “an FSB agent”. Mr. Epshteyn has not yet clarified for me if he is an agent of Russia under FARA, so I am altering the text pending his answer). But if I could not hear what Mr. Page, Mr. Manafort, and Mr. Kislyak were discussing with the Russian Ambassador behind the door of Donald Trump’s suite, the FBI most certainly could.
I will produce a short timeline of the Trump-Russia story on this blog tomorrow. For now, the point is that intelligence sources say that Page, Manafort and Epshteyn, possibly also with Trump, are on tape discussing how Page should carry a recording of Donald Trump to Moscow, offering his bona fides in exchange for Russia’s help hacking the election (something that Epshteyn denies, specifically, he denies that he is on tape doing so – I have sought clarification as to whether the conversation happened, and will amend the text when I receive an answer); and that the said tape of Trump was played by Page to Russian intelligence, possibly including Mr. Diveykin, the Russian official in charge of hacking the election; and that multiple foreign intelligence services, among them the UK, Germany and Ukraine, have a tape of this; and that finally, in October, the FBI was able to listen to that tape.
So God bless America, and God Save the Queen.