Last night, the House Intelligence Committee released the testimony of Carter Page, the Trump campaign’s Russia adviser. It was bizarre and explosive. It corroborated major parts of the Steele Dossier and allegations that the Trump campaign engaged in a massive bribery scheme over the sale of 19.5% of Russia’s largest oil company Rosneft.
Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider had the best early summary of the Page/Russia testimony here. In this post, I am connecting the dots to the bigger scandal over the Rosneft deal and how it implicates more Trump officials — and the name I am adding to the mix (beyond the ones journalists have focused on) is Jared Kushner.
This past June, I posted about a key event that has gone unnoticed that connects the dots: “The Largest Oil Deal in Russian History” in December 2016, which occurred in the middle of the key Kushner/Flynn events. The sale was right after Trump’s victory but before the inauguration, and also right after Kushner’s push for a secret communications link to the Kremlin through the Russia embassy that U.S. intelligence couldn’t access, and right before Kushner’s meeting with Putin’s banker/confidant Gorkov, who controls billions in assets.
The Steele Dossier alleges that Russians made a deal with Carter Page in the summer of 2016 to sell “19% of Rosneftgaz,” a mutli-billion dollar deal, and secretly transfer benefits to Trump officials. The dossier indicated that Page was Manafort’s intermediary to meet personally with Russians, and that Igor Sechin (the CEO of Rosneft and a close Putin ally) and Page had held a “secret meeting” to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.” The dossier alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia.
Coincidentally, on Dec. 9th, 2016, Russia made a deal with Qatar to sell “19% of Rosneftgaz.” After the December oil deal, reports indicated that the assets were being transferred through shady channels to unknown new stakeholders.
Sechin is strictly limited by U.S. sanctions, and the Steele dossier indicated that Page and Sechin discussed lifting sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea. Page denied these allegations. Page testified he actually met with Andrey Baranov, one of Rosneft’s other executives. “I had a brief lunch with Andrey Baranov,” Page said.
“Mr. Sechin is under sanctions, is he not?” Schiff asked. “And as someone working on investor relations for a CEO who is under sanctions, would it be advantageous for that head of investor relations to see those sanctions go away?”
Page first said nothing Baranov “said to me ever implied or asked for anything related to sanctions. Again, there may have been some general reference.” So Page first denies a link, but in the next breath confesses “there may have been some general reference” to sanctions.
Now I am quoting directly from Bertrand’s piece on Page’s testimony:
Page also said he met with an investor relations official at Gazprom while in Moscow in both July and December. Asked whether he and Baranov discussed “a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft” in July, Page said, “He may have briefly mentioned it.”
“Did you ever express support for the idea of lifting US sanctions on Russia with Mr. Baranov?” Schiff asked.
“Not — not directly, not directly,” Page said.
There is no evidence that Page played any role in the Rosneft deal. But Page returned to Moscow one day after the Rosneft deal was signed on December 8 to “meet with some of the top managers” of Rosneft, he told reporters at the time. Page denied meeting with Sechin, Rosneft’s CEO, during that trip, but he said it would have been “a great honor” if he had.
From there, Page traveled to London, where he met with his “old friend” Sergey Yatsenko — a former mid-level Gazprom executive — to discuss “some opportunities in Kazakhstan.”
Asked whether he had ever met the overseas professor who told Papadopoulos about the Kremlin’s dossier of incriminating Clinton emails, Joseph Misfud, Page at first said “No.”
But he then seemed to backtrack: “I — you know, there may have been a greeting,” he said. “I have no recollection of ever interacting with him in any way, shape or form…I have no personal relationship with him.”
To recap, Page confirms the key elements of the dossier and new details:
1) He had meetings with Rosneft officials in July 2016 in which those officials discussed both the massive sale of Rosneft AND the Trump administration lifting sanctions on Russia.
2) Page’s testimony and his emails confirm that Page got advance approval from high-ranking Trump officials like Sam Clovis to go to Russia in July 2016, and he communicated with Trump officials immediately after the trip congratulating them for a stunning pro-Russia change in the Republican Party platform on Ukraine policy.
3) Page for some reason went back to Russia a day before the Rosneft megadeal to meet with Rosneft executives, and then went to London to talk to Gazprom officials about sudden new investment opportunities
Here are links to the stories on this shady megadeal between Qatar and Russia on Dec. 9:
“Russian state holding company Rosneftegaz on Saturday signed a deal with the Qatar Investment Authority and commodities trader Glencore to sell a 19.5 percent stake in state-owned oil major Rosneft, Rosneft said. The privatization deal, which Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin called the largest in Russia’s history, was announced by Rosneft in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. Its success suggests the lure of taking a share in one of the world’s biggest oil companies outweighs the risks associated with Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Rosneft had been under pressure to secure a sale of the 19.5 percent stake to help replenish state coffers, hit by an economic slowdown driven by weak oil prices and exacerbated by sanctions.”
More recent reports have focused on the shadiness of the deal and its subsequent transactions: “More than a month after Russia announced one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s, selling a 19.5 percent stake in its giant oil company Rosneft, it still isn’t possible to determine from public records the full identities of those who bought it. The stake was sold for €10.2 billion to a Singapore investment vehicle that Rosneft said was a 50/50 joint venture between Qatar and the Swiss oil trading firm Glencore.”
The Dec. 9th deal falls in the middle of the shadiest events in the Kushner/Flynn/Kislyak timeline, which connects the dots on a mix of known illegal non-disclosures, corruption, potential espionage, and Logan Act violations. They certainly explain why Kushner advised Trump to fire Comey (obstruction of justice).
Dec. 1: Just 8 days before this oil mega-deal, Flynn & Kushner met Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower, and proposed secret communication link with the Kremlin through the Russian Embassy. The parties admit that the idea was to avoid any detection of these communications by U.S. authorities.
Dec. 8: Carter Page (as he confirms in his testimony) meets with Rosneft executives, and then flies to London to discuss new business opportunities in Kazakhstan with Gazprom officials.
Dec. 9: The Largest Oil Deal in Russian History
Dec. 13: At Kislyak’s urging, Kushner meets Gorkov, who chairs Russia’s government-owned VE Bank and is Putin’s close confidante. Journalists describe VE Bank (VEB) as Putin’s slushfund, a source of money independent from official Russia budgeting. VE Bank is under strict US sanctions. Here is good commentary on these events.
Dec. 14: Gorkov immediately flies to Japan to meet with Putin.
Dec. 29, Obama orders new Russian sanctions for election hacking and interference. On the same day: Flynn calls Kislyak five times about Russian sanctions. Trump tweets to Putin, calling him “very smart” for not responding, effectively saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”
Jan. 4: Flynn reveals to Don McGahn, chief attorney for the transition effort, that he’s under FBI investigation. (He is still appointed and receives security clearance, and he resigns on Feb. 13, long after Sally Yates reveals incriminating details about Flynn on Jan. 26-30).
Jan. 9: Trump transition team announces that Kushner will join the administration as a senior adviser.
Jan. 15: Pence denies that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions.
Jan. 18: Kushner applies for top-secret security clearance, omitting many meetings with foreign officials, including the relevant ones with Kislyak and Gorkov in December. Those omissions are potentially criminal, from my reading of security experts.
The two Rosneft sales may have been related. Was there an initial negotiation with the Trump campaign for the Rosneft stake, as the dossier claims? It just happened to be 19% in the alleged dossier, the same number in the December deal (19.5%!). A friend pointed out that the 19.5% in both the dossier’s Russia/Carter Page deal and the Qatar Dec.9 deal might not be directly connected, because there may be a 20% legal threshold rule for reporting financing and investors. But the fact that each of these deals is under that 20% threshold suggests that the dealmakers are unusually focused on secrecy, so that it dictates the scope of the deal.
Did that turn into the December Qatar deal, which in turn was laundered into a deal for Trump Associates, through a Singapore firm? Was Kushner negotiating that deal? Lots of shell companies and the Cayman Islands are involved, perhaps as a way to hide the beneficiaries.
And everyone should listed to this TrumpCast (Slate’s chair and host Jacob Weisberg) interviewing Tim O’Brien of Bloomber Business News. O’Brien explains how, 10 years ago, a 26-year-old Jared Kushner made a terrible bet on Manhattan real estate. His father had just been released from prison, and Jared had taken over the family real estate business. He was looking to make a big splash, so he sold off his family’s holdings in New Jersey in order to purchase a huge building in midtown Manhattan (666 5th Ave., I am not making that up) for $1.8 billion. It was 2007, the peak before the crash. Suddenly, Jared had a financial disaster on his hands. He negotiated a deal to save the project from bankruptcy with a 10-year loan, but the creditors were set to call in their debts in 2017 or 2018. About a year ago, Kushner had a deal with a Chinese bank in place to re-structure the deal with a huge windfall of $500 million, but journalists at Bloomberg found out, and their story blew the deal (because it was a corrupt deal). And once again, Kushner’s real estate business is heading towards disaster… unless he can find another authoritarian state bank to bail him out.
Guess what happens next? O’Brien explains that Kislyak arranged this December meeting between Kushner and Gorkov (the chair of the Putin-affiliated Russia bank VEB).
Bloomberg reports that the Kushners are buried in debt to Chinese lenders on a New Jersey deal. NBC has followed up on this story on the links between Kushner’s 666 5th Ave. real estate disaster and potentially using the “backchannel” to find a Russian banker to bail him out.
The bottom line is that Page just confirmed major pieces of the Steele Dossier, made all of these allegations far stronger, and also strengthened Mueller’s case against a slew of Trump officials (and as I am suggesting here, including Kushner).