-- New York energy consultant Carter Page told ABC News Tuesday that he gave Russian spies, who held themselves out as trade officials, in New York only “immaterial” information as they sought to recruit him as an intelligence source two years before he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
“Any information I could give is, again, immaterial and all public information,” he said during a break in a New York energy conference.
Page acknowledged to ABC News in a separate interview Monday that he that he is the individual identified as "Male-1" in a 2015 court document submitted in a case that led to the indictment of three men accused of being Russian spies. Page told ABC News he cooperated in that case but felt the feds unfairly exposed him by describing him in January 2015 in a manner that would be known to energy insiders.
"I didn't want to be a spy," he said in the Monday interview. "I'm not a spy."
Page now appears to have been one of several individuals with ties to the Trump presidential campaign who had been targeted by Russian intelligence agents. The prime target, according to one former senior U.S. counterintelligence official, was former General Michael Flynn. A senior Trump campaign adviser, Flynn shocked his American colleagues in the intelligence community when he appeared at a public dinner in Moscow in 2015 seated next to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Documents requested by congressional investigators later showed he took a $33,000 speaking fee from the Russians – a payment he initially failed to disclose upon joining Trump's administration. Flynn has since denied any impropriety.
Questions have also been raised about a meeting between President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner and the director of the Russian-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB Bank). At the suggestion of the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Kushner met with the director in late December, but VEB is under Ukraine-related sanctions by the U.S. government. Bank officials told ABC News that the meeting with Kushner was business related, but White House officials offered a different explanation, saying Kushner took the meeting in his capacity as the Trump transition team member responsible for interacting with foreign dignitaries.
VEB Bank is the same Russian financial outfit that employed Evgeny Buryakov, the convicted spy who discussed on FBI surveillance recordings the efforts to recruit Page as an intelligence source. Buryakov was sentenced to 30 months in prison as part of a plea agreement, but he was released from prison over the weekend and is awaiting deportation to Russia. He continues, however, to be listed on the VEB Bank website as an employee of the bank.
In the FBI court filings, spy recruiters were overheard speaking with Buryakov about "the attempted use of Male-1 as an intelligence source for Russia," the court record says. The recruiter says he "promised Male-1 a lot" and told him he would use his "connections in Russia" to "push contracts" his way. "For now, his enthusiasm works for me," the recruiter says of Page.
Page was never accused during the Buryakov case of having been successfully recruited or of spying. FBI agents say in the court record that they interviewed "Male-1" in June 2013. During the interview, Page described how he and the man identified as a Russian recruiter, Victor Podobnyy, met periodically and exchanged emails about the energy industry, but nothing in the court document suggests that Page shared any sensitive information with Podobnyy. Rather, it appears they spoke in much the way business executives seeking opportunities do — with Page touting his work ties to the Russian energy firm Gazprom. The Russians were heard laughing, saying Page had no idea they were government agents.
The FBI said "Male-1" provided the Russians his "outlook on the current and future of the energy industry" and "also provided documents … about the energy business."
Page told ABC News he did not think much of Podobnyy at the time, noting he was young – roughly the same age as the students in class he taught as an adjunct at the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs. “I looked at him as if he was one of my students,” Page said.
Podobnyy apparently did not think much of Page either, telling a fellow Russian spy he considered Page to be “an idiot,” and suggesting according to the FBI court filings that he was leading Page on with promises he had no plans to keep. “You promise him a favor for a favor. You get documents from him and tell him to go [expletive] himself.”