A trip to Moscow last July by former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page spurred, at least in part, the FBI's probe into possible connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The FBI had reportedly become aware in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit the help of Page, and the 2016 trip — for a speaking event at prominent school in Moscow — was enough to further stir the agency's interest in the businessman.
The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI had obtained a warrant to surveil Page through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last summer as part of its investigation into ties between members of President Trump's campaign and Moscow.
It's not clear if such discussions, Page's meetings in Moscow or another factor first drew the FBI's attention.
Page has fervently denied accusations of wrongdoing in his contacts with Russian officials, making several cable news appearances last week to defend his actions. But Page also appeared to stumble at times during the appearances.
For example, in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos last week, he was unable to say for sure whether he discussed Trump's position on sanctions with Russian officials, acknowledging that "something may have come up in conversation."
"I have no recollection, and there's nothing specifically I would have done that would have given people that impression," he told Stephanopoulos.
The Trump administration has worked to distance itself from Page, saying that the Navy veteran and oil consultant played a minimal role in Trump's presidential bid and that the president never actually met him. There is little evidence of direct contact between the campaign and Page, but Trump once listed his name when asked about his national security team.
“If the Russians were attempting to collude with him, they were attempting to collude with someone who had no influence on the Trump campaign,” Roger Stone, a GOP strategist and longtime Trump ally, told the Times. “I think he’s a self-promoter — not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
During his speaking engagement in Moscow last July, Page railed against U.S. policy toward Russia and had been a frequent critic of the Obama administration's attitude toward the Kremlin.