A former national security adviser to the Trump campaign says he had concerns about Carter Page's visit to Moscow in the summer of 2016 — chief among them the possibility that he would embarrass the campaign.
J.D. Gordon also told NPR that Page as well George Papadopoulos, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his own Russia contacts, were marginal figures in the Trump world. Both men served as members of the then-candidate's foreign policy team, but they were not central figures with a meaningful voice, he said.
"They were peripheral members of a relatively peripheral advisory committee," Gordon told NPR by text message. "They had no campaign email addresses, no assigned office space, no building passes, no responsibilities and very little access to campaign leadership."
He described Page and Papadopoulos as "volunteers," adding that "nobody cared what they did or what they said, as long as they didn't embarrass the campaign. Their roles are being grotesquely overblown for political reasons."
The entire campaign foreign policy team has come under increased scrutiny as more details have emerged about contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russians.
Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia interactions. According to court papers, a professor with links to the Russian government told Papadopoulos in April 2016 — months before the Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee were public — that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
Papadopoulos reported back to senior campaign officials — now identified as Sam Clovis, Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort — about his communications with Russians and their proxies.
Gordon, who worked as a Pentagon spokesman during the George W. Bush administration, said he learned about Papadopolous' Russia contacts when the court documents were unsealed Oct. 30. With Page, however, Gordon was more directly involved.
Gordon said Page asked about going to Moscow to speak at the commencement ceremony in July for the New Economic School, a Moscow university.
"I did have concerns about Carter's plan to visit Moscow," Gordon said. "I declined to forward his request up the chain of command and told him it was a bad idea."
Asked why he was worried about Page's trip, Gordon replied: "Many reasons, though embarrassing the campaign was a major factor."
In the end, Page did travel to Moscow. In the transcript from his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Page told lawmakers that he met with members of the Russian government, including a deputy prime minister, as well as representatives of state-owned businesses.
Page offered his campaign colleagues a "readout" about his time in Moscow. In an email to Gordon and Tera Dahl, a former Breitbart columnist who was working with the campaign, Page said he would send them a memo "regarding some incredible insights and outreach I've received form a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration."
Page told lawmakers that he believes he did indeed send them a memo.
Gordon told NPR that he doesn't recall all of Page's emails "and certainly not the one he allegedly sent from Russia."
After Page went around Gordon for permission from the campaign to go to Moscow, Gordon said he generally tuned him out.
"I had absolutely zero desire to hear anything he had to say, and rarely spoke to him again," he said. "And on those rare occasions, he never brought up his trip and I didn't ask."