Carter Page, the seemingly hapless, dead-eyed and bald-headed former-Trump adviser who is at the white-hot center of the controversy surrounding Trump campaign collusion with Russia, looks like he tried to learn to smile like Putin but can't pull it off. Yet he continues to accept offers to botch television interviews.
Last week, he refused to say who brought him into the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser on skittery appearances with Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulos.
Speculation about Page grows, reaching a fever pitch in former British MP and rom-com novelist Louise Mensch's explosive, and seemingly unfounded, claim that Page delivered a video of Trump making policy promises to the Russians in exchange for hacking the election.
In conversation, longtime Trump adviser and Republican dirty-trickster Roger Stone—who, like Page, is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, and, also like Page, suspects that he was the subject of a FISA warrant—told me that he also thinks that former campaign head Corey Lewandowski is responsible for Page's presence on a list of Trump advisers—but added that Page had previously worked for Ben Carson's campaign.
"I suspect Corey Lewandowski," Stone said. "My understanding, in retrospect, I only learned this recently, is that Page, evidently, was active for Ben Carson and when the Ben Carson people, [political adviser] Barry Bennett, perhaps the worst dressed person in America, and a couple other guys came from his campaign, I think that Carter may have come with them."
"Not true. Absolutely not true," Bennett said when I asked him about Stone's claims. "I never met Carter Page. Carter Page was not part of the Carson campaign."
The right-wing Daily Caller also reported last week, however, that Lewandowski was responsible for bringing Page into Trump's orbit—a claim which he denied.
"I would recall a meeting, most likely. I don't recall that meeting ever taking place, because I don't think it ever took place," he responded to the Daily Caller's story. "What I'm saying is I've never met [Page], and I will testify under oath, to the best of my recollection, I have never met him."
(Mensch, for her part, thinks that Sessions brought Page into Trump's orbit but offers little evidence).
Stone, who famously feuded with Lewandowski, is known for provocative and not-always-true statements. As Bennett put it, "Roger is special."
During the campaign, Stone bragged that he had spoken to Julian Assange, seemingly predicted the release of John Podesta's emails, and, it was later revealed, communicated with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker allegedly responsible for breaching the DNC's computers.
I called Stone to talk about weed—he has recently been taking the president to task for allowing hardcore drug warriors like Attorney General Jeff Sessions to dictate pot policy and my story about that will be out in the column later this week—but I have been covering the Russia hearings and the pull was hard to resist.
Stone and Paul Manafort have a long history—they ran a consulting firm with Lee Atwater, who was responsible for the racist Willie Horton ad, in the '80s and represented a long list of unsavory characters. Manafort, who chaired the Trump campaign through the convention, left when his ties to pro-Putin Ukrainian interests became uncomfortable for the campaign.
Stone said he believes that he and Manafort, in addition to Page, were subjects of FISA warrants.
"If you will read the New York Times page one, January 20, in the print edition, not the online edition, the headline is 'Wiretap data used in probe of Trump aids,'" Stone said, echoing a point Donald Trump has also made about the difference between the print and online headline of that particular story.
"The story clearly says that intelligence community sources say 'wiretaps have been exercised on three individuals and that emails and records of financial transactions have been obtained that show Russian collusion.' Sounds good but not in my case. Zero chance. Zero chance, and then later on January 30 the Times adds to that there are also transcripts of intercepted phone calls."
Stone thinks those stories are referring to him.
"There are other stories from that time that have small almost insignificant tidbits of information that could only be gleaned if someone was reading your email or monitoring your phone calls," he said. "So yeah, one of two things: I was under surveillance under the same warrant or perhaps I was under surveillance under an identical warrant under the same time frame, and I think Manafort was as well."
Manafort has recently come under increased fire for failing to register as an agent of a foreign government.
Stone has taken to claiming that the Deep State has attempted to assassinate him twice since January, when he first started talking about testifying about the Trump campaign's potential collusion with Russia in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee.
"All I'm saying is to me [it's] kind of strangely coincidental that on the same day, essentially, or the same time period, we can talk about my testifying on the issue of Russian collusion I got really sick," he said. "I initially just thought [it] was a routine stomach virus but after the fifth day of uncontrollable vomiting and nausea and violent diarrhea, dehydration, a fever, a horrific rash all over my chest and face, you know, I finally went to the doctor because I'm one of those people who resist right to the end...it'll change, it'll shift, but it didn't. And doctors, because I saw doctors both in New York and Florida, both concluded I had been poisoned somehow, maybe inadvertently, maybe purposefully. Somehow I had ingested a poison they thought was potentially radioactive."
Russia has been accused of poisoning opponents with radioactive polonium. But Stone thinks it is the Deep State, which he defines as both holdover Obama appointees and the permanent bureaucrats of the "military industrial complex."
Stone said after he had finally recovered—although, because of suspected radiation he has to go back for regular check-ups in case it causes cancer—someone may have tried to kill him again.
"And then on the day after the House Democrats called on me to testify and I indicate publicly that I'm more than prepared to do so and I don't even need to be subpoenaed, nor am I asking for immunity but I do want it to be in a public session since they trashed me in a public session, out of nowhere some guy broadsides me, down the street a couple blocks from my house," he said. "I was on my way to Orlando for a book signing and I didn't see much because the airbags deployed on my car both on the front and the side but whoever this was driving a matte gray four-door large-sized sedan with dark-tinted windows couldn't see who was inside, jams it in reverse and just takes off. And the tag number on the car is fake."
All of this is hard to prove and Stone says he has been accused of using it as a stunt to sell books.
"Am I certain that someone is trying to kill me?" he asked. "No, but it's a possibility."
For a man who thinks that shadowy government figures are out to get him, Stone still moves with a certain amount of swagger. Carter Page, on the other hand, does not look long for the world. Depending on whose conspiracy theories you believe, the Russians, the Republicans, and the Deep State all have reason to want him out of the picture.
"Never met the guy in my life," Stone said when I asked if he knew Page. "Wouldn't know him if he walked up and punched me in the mouth. And I'll go a step further. I don't know anybody that knows him. In conservative Republican circles no one knows who this guy is."
That's when I asked how, then, he came to work for the Trump campaign. While Stone's answer may allow him to settle political scores—and seems to intentionally distance both himself and Trump from Page—he still seems largely dismissive of the entire narrative.
"The whole Russian meme, the manifestation of it, is an invention of John Podesta," he said.
But, he acknowledged, it may be helping to lead the president down the wrong path. Stone, like many of Trump's nationalist supporters, is against further U.S. involvement in Syria, but he acknowledged that the politics surroundings Russia could have had something to do with Trump's missile strike on an airbase there.
"Politically, domestically, the benefit is obvious," Stone said. "If Donald Trump is in bed with Putin, why did he stick him in the balls? The wind kinda went out of that sail. And that's fine but if this extends to a wider war, boots on the ground, saturation bombing, well then the Trump coalition will fracture and it will be hard for him to govern."