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FBI probed Trump campaign aide’s Russia ties, WHouse backs away

The White House on Wednesday tried to distance itself from a one-time campaign aide to Donald Trump, Carter Page, after revelations that the FBI investigated him last year for ties to Russian intelligence.

The Washington Post reported that federal investigators obtained a rare warrant from the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page’s communications — the first confirmation of government surveillance of Trump’s team.

During the 2016 election campaign, then candidate Trump personally referred to Page as one of his foreign policy advisors.

It has now emerged that federal prosecutors and an intelligence court judge at least suspected the former Moscow-based banker was also working for, or with, the Russians.

The White House rushed to play down Page’s ties to Trump and the campaign.

One current official told AFP that Page never met Trump, did not have a campaign pass and was only mentioned as an advisor because the billionaire candidate was under pressure to show he had a policy brain trust.

The official admitted that Page could have written policy memos for the campaign, but his name was only on a list of supposed advisors because of a recommendation from Sam Clovis, an Iowa conservative now working in Trump’s Department of Agriculture.

The FBI declined to comment on the report.

The bureau is currently investigating Russian interference in the US election, an operation US intelligence later concluded was designed to help Trump win the presidency.

The FBI began its probe, which also is examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, in July.

Trump has repeatedly called the Russian interference story “fake news” while alleging, without offering evidence, that the previous administration of president Barack Obama spied on him and his campaign.

In March 2016, Trump named Page as one of his small team of foreign policy advisors, and Page attended the Republican convention in July, where he and others met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But months later, Page was disavowed by the campaign, apparently in part because of the attention drawn by his trips to Moscow, which he said were private business.

His name surfaced in a dossier of reports on links between the Trump operation and Russia complied by former British spy Christopher Steele.

Page told the Post he had “nothing to hide.”

“This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance,” Page said.

In March, he told Fox News that he did not help the Russians in their efforts to influence the campaign.

“I did nothing that could even possibly be viewed as helping them in any way,” he said.

Meanwhile CNN reported Tuesday that recent intelligence reports brought to light by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes did not show, as Nunes alleged, that the Obama administration combed intelligence intercepts to find information about Trump and his team.

CNN said both Republican and Democratic sources said the reports showed Obama national security advisor Susan Rice had handled the intelligence in “normal and appropriate” ways.

Nunes was forced to step aside as chair of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian election interference due to his own mishandling of those reports.