Travels by Trump campaign adviser Carter Page to meet with senior officials in Hungary during the 2016 presidential election are being closely examined by congressional investigators, given the increasingly close ties between Hungary and Russia and the role of the country as a hub for Russian intelligence activity. The Hungarian prime minister was the first foreign leader to endorse Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Though characterized as a low-level volunteer, Page held high-level foreign policy meetings with Hungarian officials before the 2016 presidential election, ABC News has learned.
The meetings included a 45-minute session in September 2016 with Jeno Megyesy, who is a close adviser to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and focuses on relations with the United States, at his office in Budapest, where Page presented himself as a member of then-candidate Trump’s foreign policy team.
Megyesy confirmed for ABC News in an interview Friday that he met with Page at the request of Reka Szemerkenyi, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States. Megyesy said he did most of the talking at the meeting because Page did not appear to be well versed on the issues facing the region.
“I had the impression he didn’t deal with these issues on a regular basis,” Megyesy said.
Page’s visit to Budapest drew notice from members of the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Orban, who was the first world leader to endorse then-candidate Trump, has become increasingly aligned with Russian President Vladamir Putin, and experts consider Budapest a hub for Russian intelligence activity.
When questioned by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, during a hearing in early November, however, Page had only hazy memories of the trip. He said he remembered seeing a Hungarian official but could not recall who.
“You don’t remember the names of anyone you met with or what their positions were in the Hungarian government?” Schiff asked, according to a transcript of the closed-door session.
“Not right now,” Page replied. “I can’t recall.”
Page told the members he could only barely remember the visit, saying “the detailed specifics of that are a distant memory.”
But Schiff was incredulous. “You went all the way to Budapest, and you can’t remember who you met with and what you hoped to accomplish?” he asked.
According to Megyesy, he spoke to Page in his office in the ornate parliament building, a sprawling landmark along the Danube River that draws legions of tourists. Their conversation covered a range of topics, Megyesy said, including the recent strain in relations between the U.S. and Hungary.
“I walked him through the politics and the issues with respect to Hungary,” Megyesy said.
Page held another meeting in Budapest, this one with Szemerkenyi, who was also in the city at the time, for coffee at a hotel, according to one person familiar with the meeting. Page initially met Szemerkenyi at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The two met a third time in October at an embassy function in Washington, she said.
“When Mr. Page went to Budapest, I was on a scheduled visit back home and met with him for courtesy meetings,” Szemerkenyi told ABC News in a written statement. “Our conversations were friendly, discussing only general foreign policy issues.”
The infamous 35-page dossier detailing unverified intelligence gathered by a former British spy hired to dig up damaging information on then-candidate Trump contains allegations that Page held secret meetings with Russian officials during a visit to Moscow in July. Page has flatly denied the dossier’s assertion and frequently derides the file as the “dodgy dossier.”
Megyesy said no outsiders attended his meeting with Page, but when Schiff asked Page directly if he met with any Russians during his visit to Hungary, his answer was a bit more vague.
“There may have been one Russian person passing through there,” Page responded. “But I have no recollection because it was totally immaterial and nothing serious was discussed.”