One of Donald Trump’s ex-foreign policy aides says allegations that he worked with the Russian government during the 2016 US election are a “complete joke”.
The FBI believed Carter Page was “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government” at that time.
Mr Page’s relationships with Russian intelligence officials are highlighted in court applications which led to him being put under surveillance.
Mr Trump said it appeared that his campaign was illegally spied on.
The newly released surveillance applications were granted and renewed by several different judges sitting in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
What was released?
The FBI released the previously secret document cache on Saturday night following Freedom of Information requests by several US organisations.
It contains 412 pages of heavily redacted material which includes the surveillance applications, their later renewals, and warrants surrounding the investigation into Mr Page.
“The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” the October 2016 application to the court states.
According to the documents, “the FBI believes that the Russian government’s efforts are being co-ordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.
It also said Mr Page “has established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers”.
Mr Page told The Hill he was “having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above complete ignorance and/or insanity”.
Speaking on CNN on Sunday, he described the allegations as “so ridiculous”.
He said: “You talk about misleading the courts, it’s just so misleading. It’s literally a complete joke.”
He strongly denied he had worked for the Kremlin and described as “spin” accusations that he had advised Moscow.
“No, I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
“I may have, back in the G20 when they were getting ready to do that in St Petersburg, I might have participated in a few meetings that a lot of people – including people from the Obama administration – were sitting on, and Geneva, Paris, et cetera, but I’ve never been anywhere near what’s being described here.”
Who is Carter Page?
Mr Page is an energy industry consultant with longstanding ties to Russia. He first reached out to the Trump campaign in 2015 before meeting Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, in January 2016.
By March 2016, Mr Trump had identified Mr Page as one of a handful of campaign foreign policy advisers.
However, after allegations emerged in the so-called Trump dossier that he had served as an intermediary between Russian officials and the president’s campaign as they worked to advance Mr Trump’s presidential efforts, Mr Page resigned from his role. He denied all the allegations against him.
What did Mr Trump say?
The president took to Twitter to welcome the release of the documents and accuse the Department of Justice and the FBI of breaking the law to mislead the courts and spy on his campaign – to benefit his Democratic opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton.
The leader of the Democratic Party in the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, came to a different conclusion.
In a statement, she said: “Despite President Trump’s repeated claims, these documents provide clear evidence of ‘Russia’s co-ordination with Carter Page’, a high-ranking Trump campaign official, ‘to undermine and improperly and illegally influence the 2016 US presidential election’.”
She added: “The GOP [Republican Party] must cease their attacks on our law enforcement and intelligence communities, and finally decide where their loyalty lies.”
How does this fit into the wider picture?
The documents’ release comes nine days after 12 Russians were charged with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.
The charges form part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into US intelligence findings that Russians conspired to tilt the election in Mr Trump’s favour, and whether any of his campaign aides colluded. Mr Trump has labelled the investigation a “witch hunt”.
So far, the inquiry has indicted 32 people – mostly Russian nationals in absentia, but also three companies and four former Trump advisers.
Just days later, Mr Trump met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at a summit in Helsinki and was asked by reporters whether he believed Russia had meddled in the 2016 election,
“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied, appearing to back the Russians over his own agencies.
The next day, following widespread outrage, he read a pre-prepared statement, saying he actually meant “wouldn’t”.
On Thursday, the White House announced it had invited Mr Putin to Washington in October.