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Schiff: Adviser's testimony gives insight on Russian efforts

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In this Nov. 2, 2017, photo, Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, speaks with reporters following a day of questions from the House Intelligence Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee says testimony from a former foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump's campaign gives new insight into Russian efforts to influence Trump's operation.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, California Rep. Adam Schiff said "more and more pictures of the puzzle" were coming together after testimony from Carter Page, the former foreign policy adviser, and a guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, another foreign policy adviser to Trump's Republican campaign.

Page, an unpaid adviser who left the campaign before Trump was elected, acknowledged in closed-door testimony to Congress last week that he had contact with a high-level Russian official while in Russia last year, according to a transcript released Monday. He told the House intelligence panel that he "briefly said hello" to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich when he traveled to Russia for a speech.

Under repeated questions about the contact — which he had at times denied in the past — Page said he had spoken to Dvorkovich after his July 2016 speech at Moscow's New Economic School.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference. Court documents unsealed last week reference a professor who told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

"You have these two efforts in parallel going on with two of these advisers," Schiff said. "You have them both reporting back to the campaign. ... I hardly think that these are coincidental."

Page called his words with Dvorkovich a "brief interaction," but Schiff and other Democrats on the panel were skeptical.

According to the transcript, Schiff produced a campaign email during the questioning in which Page had written to other Trump advisers that Dvorkovich had told him "in a private conversation" that he had expressed support for Trump and the desire to work together. Page responded that the conversation had been less than 10 seconds long.

The testimony was part of the House committee's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether it is linked to Trump's campaign. Page's trip raised questions just as the FBI began its counterintelligence investigation into the Russian meddling, and he has offered contradictory accounts about whom he met there — at one point telling the AP that he hadn't met with Dvorkovich. But his testimony on Thursday was under oath.

The House panel released the transcript as part of an agreement with Page, who had been subpoenaed by the committee. Parts of the transcript are redacted.

Page told the panel he had informed some members of the Trump campaign about the trip, including then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions. He said he mentioned in passing to Sessions, who is now U.S. attorney general, that he was preparing to visit Russia and Sessions "had no reaction whatsoever."

The testimony could raise more questions about the extent of Sessions' knowledge about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians. Sessions recused himself from overseeing an investigation into the Trump campaign in March after acknowledging two previously undisclosed conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign. Since then, Sessions has downplayed his own knowledge about communications between campaign aides and Russian officials and intermediaries.

Page has insisted — and continued to insist in the interview — that the trip was personal and not campaign related.

However, the committee produced an email in which Page wrote to campaign officials and asked them to let him know "if you have any reservations or thoughts on how you'd prefer me to focus these remarks," apparently referring to the speech he was giving in Moscow.

He also suggested that Trump take his place at the speech — a suggestion that appeared to go nowhere.

Schiff pressured Page on what the congressman suggested were inconsistencies in his testimony and past statements, noting that Page told the committee that he had met only one Russian government official during his July 2016 trip to Russia, and yet had told campaign officials in an email that he had received valuable insights from legislators and senior members of the Russian presidential administration.

"Are you being honest in your testimony?" Schiff asked. "Because it doesn't seem possible for both to be true."

Page said the insights he was referring to were based on materials he had read in the press, "similar to my listening to President Trump in the various speeches that I heard of his."

In a statement prepared for the committee, Page insisted that he had no personal information that the Russian government or anyone affiliated with it played any role in the 2016 presidential campaign. He said he was not approached by anyone during the trip who led him to believe they were planning to interfere in the election. He depicted himself as an unpaid member of a campaign foreign policy team that met infrequently and provided him with no direct access to Trump.

"I have never met him in my life," Page said of Trump. "I've been in a lot of meetings with him, and I've learned a lot from him, but never actually met him face to face."

Page said he had no direct relationship with the Russian government, though he conceded that he may have spoken with different Russian government officials over the years.

Page said he had "very limited" interaction with Papadopoulos and suggested that the last time he had seen him was in June 2016 at a dinner organized by Sessions, who at the time was a prominent Trump campaign aide and supporter.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day and Tom LoBianco contributed to this report.