Harry Truman famously said that “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Trump campaign counsel Don McGahn appears to have given the same advice to international businessman Carter Page, who is at the center of the Russian influence scandal. While Page was referenced as an adviser during the campaign, McGahn sent him a letter telling him to stop calling himself “an advisor” — current or former. In other words, he was now not just a non-adviser. Page was now a non-entity for the purposes of the Trump team. As continued denials this week of any role of Page confirm, he has now joined a rather lamentable group in Washington: political orphans who wander the Beltway without a home or a friend. They are our untouchable class; people who move from high-profile existences to utter non-entities in the space of a news cycle.
McGahn, now the White House Counsel, sent the political version of a “Dear John” letter to Page in December 2016 when word came down that Page was under investigation as a possible Russian agent. The letter clearly indicates that, with the inauguration looming, the incoming Administration knew it had a problem with the Russian issue and Page was a liability that had to be severed. McGahn ordered Page to “immediately cease” saying he is a Trump adviser or that he was any more than a short-lived advisory council member “who never actually met with the president-elect.” It was a considerable demotion since, in March 2016, Trump himself referred to Page as one of his national security advisors. Moreover Trump campaign officials reportedly may have signed off on Page’s trip to Moscow that is now the focus of the investigation.
The White House has been particularly active in seeking to turn this particular Page this last week. Aides and allies have portrayed Page as some campaign barnacle that latched on to a minor advisory group. He is like the “Cellophane Man” from the musical Chicago:
Cellophane, Mister Cellophane
Should have been my name, Mister Cellophane
‘Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me and never know I’m there
Page is not alone in his new transparency. MIT Jonathan Gruber was once viewed as a key architect of Obamacare, someone who made millions advising on health care regulation. However, Gruber then had some unguarded and honest moments that moved him from A lister to persona non grata. Gruber stated that they were able to pass Obamacare because of “the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” He later added that Obamacare “passed, because the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.” He also said that they were never really trying to reduce costs as they claimed. Boom. Nothing but cellophane.
Democratic leaders suddenly began saying “Gruber who?” Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi expressed a complete lack of knowledge of who Gruber is, was, or will be. The Obama administration gave the same type of denials now heard with regard to Page: this was some minor figure without real knowledge or influence.
There was also lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was known as the “Man Who Bought Washington” due to his close and corrupting relationships with a large number of members of Congress. He handed out millions in trips, meals, tickets, and gifts to members, but when he was finally nailed he did not have a friend in the city. Suddenly it was Jack who?
Remember Charles Keating? Members could not get enough from him in terms of favors and gifts. Five senators in particular, including Sen. John McCain, would later intervene to try to get the government to drop criminal charges against him. When he was indicted for fraud related to his savings and loan, he became some relatively unknown and needy businessman receiving perfunctory assistance.
There is also infamous Jeffrey Epstein who claimed to have helped found the Clinton Foundation and took Clinton on dozens of trips, including over two dozen flights on his airplane – dubbed the “Lolita Express” for his supplying underaged girls to powerful friends for sex. The Billionaire Epstein was such a notorious sex offender that his island (where Clinton visited without secret service) was called “Orgy Island.” Once Epstein’s disgusting parties were revealed, he was suddenly a non-entity and barely an acquaintance of Clinton.
Even personal acquaintances can become non-entities when they threaten a powerful politician. Monica Lewinsky went from having an affair with President Bill Clinton to “that woman” and, according to Hillary, a “narcissistic Looney toon.”
The rule in Washington is that if you are caught in the open, you are alone. Of course, some sacrificial lambs can turn predator. The danger with people like Page is that there is a criminal investigation in the field and he could decide to seek shelter in a plea agreement.
So far, neither Page nor former national security advisor Michael Flynn seem candidates for immunity in the Russian scandal. They are left in the place where only the undead dwell. People formally known as players but whose names are no longer uttered in polite Beltway conversations.
In the end, Page may long for Russian handlers. They could prove the only non-canine friends he has.