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'Their' ABCs Trump mania and the hatchet job on Carter W Page

By Laurence Maher - posted Monday, 1 June 2020


With one glaring exception which proves the rule, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has been unable to accept the choice which the Electoral College made in the 2016 US Presidential election. It has been gripped by an institutionalised animosity towards the 45th President of the United States exemplified in its role as a spruiker for that part of the prolonged anti-Trump crusade embodied in the "Russiagate" controversy – the alleged collusion between the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign in alleged Russian interference in the election.

One notable contribution of the ABC was the three-part "Four Corners" TV series "Trump/Russia: Secrets, spies and useful idiots" broadcast on 11, 18 and 21 June 2018 in which Australia's national broadcaster stooped in its reckless crusading zeal to do a hatchet job on a US citizen and former US Navy officer, Dr Carter W Page.

Page had lived and worked in Russia for several years. He volunteered to join the Trump campaign in January 2016. Between March and September 2016, he was a campaign foreign policy adviser. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) targeted Page for electronic surveillance, one of the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques. It supplied information to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said to show probable cause for the issue by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the FISA Court) in October 2016 of a surveillance warrant under the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The Page warrant was renewed in response to further DOJ applications in January, April and June 2017. Nothing in the "Four Corners" treatment of Dr Page indicates that the ABC has the slightest understanding of (or interest in understanding) the FISA Court's unique jurisdiction or procedures.

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The "Four Corners" series had been preceded by the ABC "Russia, If You're Listening" podcast episode first heard on 8 June 2018. Its presenter announced "I've watched [Trump] go from joke candidate, to angry nominee, to surprise president." And, recalling the terminology of Cold War-era espionage, the presenter branded Dr Page as "a conservative, intellectual, ego-centric, who suffers from self-importance [and is] the ultimate useful idiot" for the Russian Government. And Page had only got "shiftier" after the FBI surveillance of him commenced.

The "Four Corners" series is a hodgepodge of tittle-tattle, tendentious questioning of persons mostly in the anti-Trump/Page camps (including boasting journalists, and former Obama Administration officials), breathless moralising, and a snippet of intercepted boasting by a Russian intelligence agent about contacts with Page. The ABC case against Page also relies upon speculative fourth-hand "I think he thought" hearsay in a "dossier" compiled by a former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. The ABC accepts the dossier at face value despite (or perhaps because of) its sleazy elements, the money involved in its production and dissemination, and its connections with the anti-Trump cause and with the Democratic party.

In July 2018, the ABC reported that the FBI had released redacted documents showing that Page was 'collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government'. It noted, formulaically, that Page had denied being a Russian agent and had not been charged with any crime – alongside a link to the "Four Corners" series. It also reported that President Trump had claimed "without evidence" that the FBI documents showed intelligence agencies misled the courts that had approved the Page surveillance authorization applications.

The "Four Corners" series was also notable for its air of misplaced wishful thinking evidenced by its anticipatory reliance on the outcome of the FBI investigation which had transformed into the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert S Mueller III.

Released in March 2019, the Mueller Report resulted in ABC News publishing an online item which included the statement that Carter Page had been "CLEARED" by the report (the investigation of Page is described at pages 95-103 and 106 of Volume 1). That was reason enough for the ABC, if it was scrupulously adhering to its unique statutory obligations to the nation, to remove all its online defamatory content regarding Dr Page promptly, and to explain fully why it had done so.

The fact that Page had been interviewed by the FBI on several occasions in 2016, and his conspicuous choice not to shelter behind lawyers were clear indicators for any self-respecting responsible media organization, one not taking sides in a public controversy, to realise the folly of jumping to conclusions.

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Then there is Dr Page's willingness to be interviewed in the second "Four Corners" programme – viewers are not told whether what the ABC broadcast contained the entirety or part of the interview. The programme is full of curiosities - the background shots of Dr Page inside a motor vehicle and what looks like a loft-apartment, Page's statement that he was a "sacrificial lamb", the ABC presenter's meek response to what Page said in explaining his use of the word "witch hunt" to describe the FBI investigation of him, his relaxed, emphatic denials, and the conspicuous failure of the presenter to confront Dr Page fairly and squarely with the gist of the ABC's grave allegation against him.

If regard is had to the vast amount of public money expended on the Mueller investigation, the varying bases and course of the subsequent attempts to remove the President from office, the paucity of prosecutions arising from two years or more of investigation, and the foundations of the "Russiagate" thesis, the shoddy "Four Corners" series and the risible podcast should be a source of acute embarrassment for the ABC. That has now become more obvious as a result of the release of the redacted report of the Inspector General of the DOJ concerning the FBI investigation of Dr Page. At this stage, it is necessary to consider the "glaring exception" mentioned above.

The ABC-TV programme "Planet America" likes poking fun at President Trump. There is plenty of material on offer for that purpose. For at least two reasons, the episode broadcast on

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About the Author

L W Maher is a Melbourne barrister with a special interest in defamation and other free speech-related disputes. He has written extensively on Australian Cold War legal history.

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