All this drama might make you think that the memo’s claims are scandalous. But part of what’s so weird and disorientating about this whole episode is that, in a normal political environment, no Republican would want to draw attention to the F.B.I.’s reasons for surveilling Page. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, Page has been on the radar of counterintelligence agents since at least 2013. A 2015 criminal complaint against two suspected Russian spies, Victor Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev, cited an intercepted conversation about their efforts to recruit a man “working as a consultant in New York City.” Page has acknowledged that he was the man they were referring to, and admitted to passing documents to the Russians.
According to CNN, Page was the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant in 2014, well before the beginning of Trump’s presidential campaign. Despite this, Trump identified Page as one of his key foreign policy advisers in March 2016. Later that year, the F.B.I. received a new secret warrant to monitor Page’s communications after he traveled to Russia, where he met with multiple Russian government officials.
Thanks to reporting on the memo, we know that Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, saw fit to apply for this warrant’s renewal. This suggests that one of the most senior figures in Trump’s own Justice Department thought it was credible that Trump had someone on his campaign who had been compromised by Russia. Only in a crazy alternate universe does that exculpate the president.