Opinion

Excerpt: Abuse and Power—How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President

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Posted: Aug 25, 2020 6:50 AM
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Excerpt: Abuse and Power—How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President

Source: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, file

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "Abuse and Power: How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President" by Carter Page.

Before social distancing and personal security became necessary precautions for health and safety reasons, I learned to effectively do so when I was turned into a political leper. I became a fugitive, isolated as I worked on my correspondence with the government and lawsuits in

federal courts to help clear my name. Based on this philosophy, I have so far survived and have continued to grow in the process. At the Trump inauguration, the new president’s and our first lady’s first dance was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” The famous words of that late singer from Hoboken, New Jersey, reflect a potent approach to life: “I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption.”

Everyone deals with existential challenges and threats in different ways. Finding a flexible and strong strategy that allows you to effectively overcome unexpected personal trials might seem like it requires some kind of true grit or extraordinary skills. Instead, it’s often just a matter of staying true to our ability to search for solutions and recognize the truth. Dangerous challenges often seem daunting at first. I consider myself immensely fortunate to have spent so much of my earlier life in military war zones and perilous emerging market settings, which taught me a great deal about how to handle stressful situations. But most aspects of my approach are exceptionally straightforward, effective and a lot easier than one might assume. In many ways, it comes down to simple principles of common sense. By maintaining a common sense approach, I was able to maintain an upbeat attitude as I went through my dangerous, isolating and sometimes devastating experience.

Throughout this long journey, I lived by five life principles that became my secret weapons. In different ways, I’ve often watched these principles work for others too. In the heat of recent battles, I really didn’t have a choice but to fight and trust my instinct. At times, defending my name and innocence felt like a matter of life and death. So it is, ultimately, for us all: a fundamental matter of life for ourselves and our families, as we proactively choose to live without fear.

Amidst my many eccentricities, I tell my own personal story not to put myself forward as a model, a life coach or to write some sort of self-help book. The moral I suggest from this history is to encourage you to have no fear in thinking for yourself. Or in the words of Sinatra, in doing it your way. Don’t always believe what the consensus and self-appointed subject-matter experts tell you. My experiences help to underscore reasons why people often need to use their own capabilities, day in and day out.

As my story shows, we have become too dependent upon the wisdom of others and not reliant enough on our own good sense. Like we saw with many of the lawyers in preceding chapters, experts often advise the public in ways that strangely coincide with their self-interest. And in the public health crisis, we all learned that when push comes to shove, you need to answer tough questions for yourself. What happens when grocery stores are out of supplies that we find necessary? What happens when you cannot get into a hospital because it’s said to be overcrowded? What happens when you cannot leave your home due to a violent revolt in the streets? Should we look up to people for advice because they are movie stars, on TV, on a basketball court, or have large amounts of money in the bank? In times like those, we especially need to be able to find and follow our internal compass. But we also need to take our lives into our own hands in more mundane situations, like when considering our political positions or the society we want to live in. We don’t need always to defer to the so-called experts. We know more than we think we know. We are wiser than we realize.

Looking into the future and throughout my recent past, proven approaches can help you navigate the kinds of trials and tribulations that we all face. Five core values of my life have helped me survive the challenges that adversaries threw at me.

1. A LIFETIME OF LEARNING

People have traditionally considered going to school as the standard model of education. But as the global coronavirus pandemic eventually forced schools and universities to shut across America and worldwide, people around the globe are beginning to develop a new perspective on how they can learn.

Throughout my career, learning has never been confined to the classroom or a degree program. Learning is constant and requires engagement every day. The independent learning I have continued throughout my life has become the best way to keep myself connected to a changing world and to keeping my mind active and open to new ideas. The good news is that with a bit of discipline, these opportunities are virtually limitless.

Over the years when I worked during the day and attended graduate school at night, I consistently found that the best learning is rarely achieved only in the classroom. Growing up, my Uncle Blaine would often refer to “educated fools.” He would illustrate this contrast by comparing a Harvard Ph.D. to a farmer with a high school education. My uncle likely gained more knowledge as a farmer tending to his cows, sheep, chickens, and horses in upstate New York than if he had solely engaged in the prestigious post-modern areas of study from the comfort of the ivory tower. By getting my hands dirty with real work and with the self-help of study to fill in some of the blanks, I have often benefited from greater lessons than those found in the theories of academia alone.

Common sense, hard work and self-reliance are often implicitly dismissed by the “educated fools” of the establishment. In one notorious incident, former New York mayor, Democratic candidate for president, and Harvard M.B.A. Michael Bloomberg, once said: “I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer. It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn.”

The successful farmers I know have skills drawn from the disciplines of botany, mechanics, veterinary medicine, genetics, microbiology, and economics. In fact, the farmers I’ve known have come closer as a group to being Renaissance men and women than almost any other, with the possible exception of the military. As it turns out, it was Mayor Bloomberg who was “schooled” by millions of Americans living in farm states who did not buy his ignorance and arrogance. For many years on Wall Street, I had an expensive Bloomberg terminal on my desk. It’s debatable where one could learn more, at a Bloomberg terminal or working hard on a farm.

Bloomberg closed his mind to many of the extraordinary opportunities in life. He lacked an open mind to the possibility that people who are very different from him might know things he didn’t. Unfortunately, this attitude doesn’t just include elite politicians, but also elite centers of learning, the brand snobbishness of high-profile universities. The online world, however, gives us a richer world of possibilities. You can now hear the lectures of star professors on history or philosophy, earn valuable business or technical degrees from local and regional institutions, update your knowledge on the free-to-all Khan Academy, or just Google what you want to read about.

While elite law schools have effectively cornered the market for legal education for over a century, a handful of states, including California and Virginia, have a more practical approach as well. These “law reader” programs allow prospective attorneys to study the law in conjunction with actual practitioners, rather than sitting in a classroom. Throughout my personal experience and as I’ve increasingly learned, such approaches can help bring to life many of the most essential aspects of most life callings.

As these examples help to demonstrate, the intrinsic rigors of developing practical solutions on your own often become the ultimate form of education. It doesn’t only happen in a work context. I have found that just getting out into the environment, both within the borders of your own country and around the world, can offer some of the best learning available anywhere if you take advantage of it.

2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE DEDICATED TO SERVICE, BUT ASSIST THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN INTO THE SELF-CENTERED CREVASSE OF FEAR AND FRUSTRATION

Those Americans who make it a habit of surrounding themselves with people who generally try to grow and serve others tend to enjoy collateral benefits. I have consistently found that those committed to service find more joy in their own lives, from my fellow volunteers in the Trump campaign to the many men and women of the American military whom I served alongside. The incredible men and women I got to know as a Trump campaign volunteer in 2016 carried many of the specific benefits described in this chapter. Prior to the election interference, the things I learned from working with these Trump campaign volunteers changed my life. It became the apex of my experience in working with many other great leaders throughout my career. Such collaboration has consistently offered key benefits. Once again, this ties back to the principles of learning described above. Many of the military veterans who became my closest colleagues during the campaign benefited from what collectively amounted to centuries of practical real-world experience.

It strikes me that one of the problems in Washington, D.C., today is that it is all too easy to remain a Beltway bureaucrat or politician who never gets out, never works in the private sector, and spends little time mentally or physically outside the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor. That lifestyle is alien to most Americans. Indeed, Americans outside the Beltway share generally similar lives that weave our collective experiences together. That connectedness explains why we are often so upbeat as a people, and why most of us are so ready to work together to address crises. On a personal level, carefully and selectively developing relationships with others in our lives can help to reinforce good characteristics that we admire in others and ourselves. Often the hardest step in the process, all we typically need to do is look for them.

Throughout much of the past several years, I have been forced to operate as a lone wolf vigilante, a one-man rebuttal squad facing down all the lies cast against me. As people called for my death, I fought for my life against the dishonest acts instigated by the Democrats’ consultants that enabled abuses across the U.S. Intelligence Community. As with most challenges in life, bad experiences will eventually come to an end, and the truth should ultimately come out. In the meantime, all good boxers need to get back in the ring to keep fighting. Reengaging with friends and sparring with opponents can help one gain closure after any traumatic experience.

Although it takes courage, the development of such points of contact can and should include your enemies. Like a tough physical exercise routine that helps build strength, endurance, or speed, engaging with those you disagree with can build your personal power on many levels too.

But first, a word of caution. The original intention of my experiences with the Comey–McCabe FBI throughout the month of March 2017 was meant to help clarify the truth, not just for the FBI, but for the public. Consistent with their recent pattern though, the Bureau nonetheless used my eagerness against me and submitted even more lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the following month. While the approach is by no means foolproof, remaining a steadfast advocate for the truth remains the best option.

At around that same time in 2017, a Naval Academy classmate and I went to Easter Sunday mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. An active duty Navy captain based near the Pentagon, she and I had previously served together overseas. When I reminded her three years later about our Easter together, I got this reply: “That’s when we were spied on, right?”

She was right. “We.” Just like President-elect Trump’s statement on his victory night, “It’s about us.” She correctly recognized that anyone and everyone in my circle was also spied upon. Just a few days earlier, reporters at the Washington Post began to break the unfortunate news about the FISA spying against President Trump and me in 2016. Although the full story would only get worse over time, the original article directly alluded to these same implications in its first sentence: “The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump.” Most people with common sense would never believe that these illicit acts were still continuing to that day, months after the Trump inauguration. Little did I know that James Comey had just signed his third false affidavit a few days earlier. Experiences like these hard knocks helped me to grow on many personal levels.

As my income was cut off and I suffered personal finance losses, I still found that certain values and tactical approaches helped me to navigate these challenges too. One of the secrets of my survival in the long haul was the self-discipline to redeploy extra income over the years into savings and investments. Later when I found my back up against the wall with Spygate and other intelligence scandals, my frugal lifestyle paid off. Without savings, it would have been much more difficult to endure these unexpected events in my life. By staying focused on things that mattered and pursuing a fairly modest lifestyle during the more normal years, my savings kept me from having to face more limited options in my battles with the government. In doing so I also avoided more dire economic consequences in the process.

Throughout these three years, I benefited from lessons learned at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, where I once studied basic survival tactics. That training taught me that with a bit of creativity, there are ways to find advantage even in the most challenging situations. Since this course included strategies for survival while you’re either in dangerous geopolitical environments or largely cut off from society, it came with many unexpected silver linings that I hadn’t expected when I originally completed my training at Fort Bragg. Back then, I expected to use what I had learned in the fight against terrorism overseas. 

But when forced to find new levels of efficiency in all areas of my life, this aerodynamic and nimble approach helped to make things move much more smoothly and quickly here at home.

3. KNOW YOUR ENEMY, BUT HAVE EMPATHY

To my benefit as well as my disadvantage, I have always believed in the importance of trying to help others. This can sometimes lead to abuse, as I experienced when the FBI manipulated records to hide years of prior support to the CIA from the FISA court. But understanding others, including those who try to do you wrong, frequently offers invaluable insight.

As a lifelong cross-country runner, engaging with one’s adversaries is similar to the difference between training on a steep mountain and on a flat plain. The more rigorous course often proves to offer the best exercise in preparation for a challenging race in the future.

By many accounts there may have been certain disingenuous motivations in play at the University of Cambridge conference in the U.K. over the summer of 2016 when I first met Professor Stefan Halper. With many Democratic operatives from the United States in attendance, my seemingly innocuous interactions may have eventually contributed to a great cascade of dishonesty and abuses. But talking to my adversaries has helped me better understand the basis of their hostility. Interacting with my enemies often sheds light on potential cures for the longstanding disagreements at the root of our conflicts. As I was incessantly attacked by such political operatives, engaging with my adversaries often helped me find ways to avoid, remedy, and counter their arguments against me.

At Cambridge that summer and as I have done throughout much of my life, I tried to deescalate conversations with antagonistic people who not only disagreed with me, but insisted on being disagreeable characters as well. It often helps to have a sense of humor—about everything, including oneself. When I faced hostile interrogations by liberal journalists or politicized prosecutors, I never allowed myself to be lost in anger. Instead, I coolly observed the absurdity of what I was witnessing. Every time I was lambasted by a political prosecutor or a biased journalist with similar objectives, I simply smiled, told the truth, and rolled with the punches.

Not all the humor I discovered was mocking. I found good fellowship and laughs in some unexpected corners, with the likes of Chris Hayes at MSNBC, Anderson Cooper on CNN, and ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos. Many of them eventually approached me in a spirit of good humor and friendliness too. Since the truth was on my side and I kept a constructive perspective, I believe the virtuous cycle of good spirits has proved mutually beneficial to each of us.

The late Peter Peterson, billionaire entrepreneur and former secretary of commerce, once spoke to a class I was teaching about his autobiography, The Education of an American Dreamer. He told my students something that has stayed with me ever since. Peterson suggested that one should “travel light.” As he explained in his book, “Avoid accumulating baggage in your work situation that keeps you from acting independently and ethically.” One should not carry heavy burdens of guilt, resentment, or desire. At the time, that point was largely self-evident to me and represented the way I had lived my life, but the same idea has recently proved helpful in the context of my new reality. Traveling light is beneficial while under attack.

Whenever I had to escape New York City because of the nearly constant threats I was receiving, when no one from the FBI or other federal agencies heeded my calls for help, I packed light too. On the way to my temporary refuge in Greenwich, Princeton, and other short-term hideouts, I simply adapted, as I had no other choice. I had to figure out the most necessary items that would fit in my backpack as I rode my bike disguised down the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park in New Jersey, through the back roads of Connecticut, or along other getaway routes.

As an unprecedented pandemic and civil unrest brought economic challenges towards the end of President Trump’s first term, many Americans have been forced to make similar choices. When one considers the bare necessities needed for survival, some sources of assistance are easily within reach. With information technology increasingly ubiquitous nowadays, access to learning outlets, communications technologies, and other essentials such as fitness routines now allow most people to enjoy the many basic tools of continuous personal growth. Such possibilities almost always remain within reach regardless of our income, resources, geographic location, or personal challenges.

When unexpected circumstances arise whether they be a global health pandemic or a spiteful political attack by partisan actors, traveling light helps me to concentrate attention and save resources. While navigating enemy territory, I have often found traveling light to be a source of focus and competitive advantage.

4. CANDOR: TELL THE TRUTH

Despite many errors in the DOJ inspector general’s FISA abuse report, it did note that the CIA, “had given a positive assessment of Page’s candor.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines candor as: “The quality of being honest and telling the truth, especially about a difficult or embarrassing subject.”

Amidst the difficult and embarrassing allegations of this fabricated scandal, everyone warned me not to say anything and to just hire an attorney to talk for me. I took precisely the opposite approach. Many people I respected thought this daring approach would land me in jail. After all, I was walking through a series of perjury traps that were often an intriguingly sabotaged maze of deception and unpredictability. NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman even added me to a “Perjury Chart” of political adversaries. The speculative hope upon which he based his analysis? Goodman claimed that I “probably lied to Congress about [my] contacts with Russian officials.” It was the same false hope that Mueller lieutenants had when they thought they might catch me saying something which contradicted some prior statement somewhere.

Once again, humor in the face of such attacks remained essential—just as I had frequently laughed at Mueller’s prosecutors during our day together in the FISA Prettyman Courthouse. Self-styled scholars like Professor Goodman always seemed to lack self-awareness, and whether I laughed with them or at them might depend upon the given moment. But the behavior of the self-appointed guardians of truth in legal academia and the federal bureaucracy has always been a source of entertainment. In an odd way, I found some of their attacks so absurd that they proved uplifting.

Similar sources of encouragement have existed in the news business too. Sean Hannity at Fox News often assesses his contributions in a self-deprecating way by describing himself as “Just a simple talk show host.” I don’t find such a characterization demeaning at all, but a perfect example of the strategy that Sean and others have used for finding success by living an honest life. In contrast to his prime time cable news competitor Rachel Maddow, who has attacked me relentlessly, Hannity’s simply telling the truth has been refreshing throughout the continued drama.

Amidst this entire saga, I never changed the essential facts of my personal story. Characters like Halper, who I never imagined might have been enlisted by the Intelligence Community as domestic political spies, have nonetheless allegedly managed to find a way onto the stage of this theater of the absurd. Amidst all the madness, many—like NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman—might have hoped that I would not immediately recall some small and irrelevant bit of trivia that Adam Schiff or other Democrats craftily tried to catch me out with.

Both personally and in terms of policy, I have still found it essential not to become too stubbornly wedded to one narrative. Willingness to change is important when your initial suppositions turn out to be incorrect. Many journalists have managed to fundamentally destroy their personal credibility by clinging to false narratives even after an opposing one has been confirmed. There is no reason to do this. Everyone gets it wrong from time to time. They might even win some people back by admitting they made a mistake.

Perhaps the quintessential example of what not to do in this regard is Congressman Adam Schiff. To this day, he doubles down on discredited stories.16 A humble perspective and the ability to admit errors is necessary when the facts turn out to be different than we thought.

5. WORK OUT EVERY DAY

In addition to my faith, staying active, healthy, and engaged has been among my most effective mental outlets in surviving it all. Yes, it’s often exhilarating to get out into the great outdoors or to engage in a team sport, but even completing basic exercise routines on my own has provided an important daily boost.

In many ways and like so many other things, athletic exercise adds diversity and excitement to a daily routine. When you’re cooped up at home, in an office, or a hotel room, moving your body gives a renewed sense of focus and well-being. Endorphins generated from exercise are often the ultimate God-given drug.

Perhaps my greatest “runner’s high,” and the best example of how valuable exercise can prove in keeping your sanity, came amidst one of my worst political and media lows, the day the Adam Schiff Show hit one of its initial apexes on March 20, 2017. I think that House Intelligence Committee meeting with then-FBI director James Comey will stand as one of my worst days ever, and not just for me, but for other members of my family as well. As Schiff began reading false allegations from the DNC’s Dodgy Dossier on national television, I watched it all with my headphones plugged into an elliptical machine at a gym in Arizona. As Schiff poured out his lies and the barrage of death threats continued, I responded by working out even harder on the machine. Like the famous quote from Charles Dickens at the start of A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I could not have found a better outlet. Over four hours later and after a phone call from the FBI, I finally called it quits as the hearing and the live television commentary started to subside. It’s hard to imagine how I might have otherwise felt at the end of that nonsense if I had not benefited from this physical release.

For many years, my signature has consisted of the first half of my first and last name. Written in cursive, simply CarPa. It’s my own abbreviation for the Latin term carpe diem—the motto of my class of 1993 at the U.S. Naval Academy. The meaning is “seize the day.”

As I learned when facing the relentless challenges of Spygate, it’s important to make the most of each day. Despite a few imperfections and the unpleasant experiences caused by some corrupt actors lurking in the shadows of our nation’s capital, America remains the best country on this planet.

Facing continued headwinds and with many questions still unanswered, it’s not too late to take steps towards fully restoring our democracy. Many valuable lessons have already been learned on a national and personal level. In the future, an uncompromising approach to reestablishing justice and discovering the full truth may prevent a coup attempt like the one that sought to disrupt a historic election and obstruct the initial years of President Donald J. Trump’s service in the White House.