Carter Page in Budapest

It’s time to devote a post to Carter Page, one of the five foreign policy advisers on Donald Trump’s election campaign team. He recently had a lengthy encounter with the House Intelligence Committee, which was interested not only in his relations with Russian government officials but also in his trip to Budapest over the Labor Day weekend in 2016. Carter Page is the founder and managing partner of Global Energy Capital, a New York investment fund and consulting firm specializing in the Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business. Although from the transcript of his testimony he comes across as someone who can’t even cobble together a complete sentence, his academic credentials, including a Ph.D. from SOAS University of London, would suggest that he cannot be as dumb as he pretends to be.

The transcript that the House Intelligence Committee released, with very few redactions, is 208 pages long. Even the relatively minor topic of his trip to Budapest occupies 13 pages. Most journalistic analyses of Page’s testimony stress the confusion the so-called foreign policy expert managed to sow. Surely, the argument goes, Page had plenty of time to craft his muddled testimony carefully, because he had known, at least since June or July of this year, that the FBI was on his trail.

Why did Carter Page visit Budapest in September 2016? At the moment we cannot give a credible answer to this question, but it was not merely a pleasure trip. This is what we know about the events leading up to the trip. Hungarian Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi met Carter Page at the Republican National Convention, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio between July 18 and 20. They must have become friendly with one another because throughout Page’s grilling he called her by her first name. At the same event, Page also met another “foreign policy type,” perhaps from the Hungarian Embassy. Subsequently, e-mails were exchanged between them. Szemerkényi invited Page to go to Budapest in August or early September, when she was spending her vacation in Hungary.

Although Page maintained, at least at the beginning of the hearings, that he went to Hungary only to meet people who are interested in the use of geothermal energy, he had to admit by the end that he discussed foreign policy with Szemerkényi and the other unnamed official in Cleveland. Although Page’s testimony was most likely purposely vague and here and there incoherent, we learned that Page was not the only Trump adviser Szemerkényi kept in touch with. Page, who pretends not to remember names at all, didn’t recall the name of this person either, but I would venture to suggest it might have been J. D. Gordon, director of national security for the Trump campaign, who managed the National Security Advisory Committee under its chairman Senator Jeff Sessions. Gordon has had a long-standing relationship with Hungarian government figures and has been a frequent visitor to Budapest. In a recent interview he told Mandiner that over the years he had visited Hungary six times. One of the first occasions might have been in December 2013 when he delivered a lecture at a conference organized by the Antall József Knowledge Center (AJKC), a think tank with close ties to the Orbán government. He was such a hit at AJKC that he was invited two more times. The last occasion was in December 2016, after Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States.

Szemerkényi introduced Page to important people in the Hungarian government during that Labor Day weekend. Although Page testified that he met a lot of people in Budapest, he didn’t know who these people were. Hungarian names, he said, are long and complicated. I can understand his difficulties with Hungarian names, but he acted as if he had no idea what kinds of positions they occupied either. Obviously, he considered some to be more important than others. After his return to the United States, he kept in touch with the ambassador and one of the people he met in Budapest, “a scholar and an expert on foreign policy” who worked for the Hungarian government.

As to the question of whether Page met any Russians during his stay in Budapest, he gave the following answers: “Not that I can recall. There may—again, similar to—we went to a—you know, there was a hotel, and we had a coffee at a hotel, and there were a few people passing through there. But I have no recollection because it was totally immaterial and nothing serious was discussed. So—but I vaguely recall that, you know there may have been someone that we, you know…” I will let the readers decide whether Page met a Russian official in Budapest.

Now let’s turn to the Hungarian side of the story. Szabolcs Panyi of Index, who happens to be in the United States at the moment, made some inquiries and found at least one person who met with Page, as it turns out for about half an hour. Jenő Megyesy, a U.S.-Hungarian citizen, formerly a lawyer in Denver, now Viktor Orbán’s principal adviser, is the person who normally meets more important American visitors. Megyesy now claims that he was surprised by Page’s general ignorance of the fine points of the foreign policy issues of the region. Others who met him were also “disappointed” that such a man was one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers. Officials of the ministry of foreign affairs claim that nobody from the ministry had anything to do with Page. Therefore, I assume that Szemerkényi asked members of the prime minister’s office to meet Trump’s foreign policy adviser. That would make sense since Szemerkényi worked for Viktor Orbán and she was his choice for the Washington post. In fact, there was quite a bit of friction between Péter Szijjártó, the minister of foreign affairs, and Réka Szemerkényi.

Szabolcs Panyi believes that if Page pushed his pro-Russian line with Szemerkényi and Megyesy, he wouldn’t have been a hit with either of them because they are both “committed Atlantists.” I see it differently. If these people are committed at all, they are committed to Viktor Orbán. When Szemerkényi was appointed Hungarian ambassador to Washington, people familiar with their relationship said that Szemerkényi was totally devoted to Orbán and that Szemerkényi’s moving to Washington was almost as if Viktor Orbán himself were the occupant of the post. Of course, it is possible that since Viktor Orbán sacked her, her admiration for the man is a great deal less ardent.

The question remains whether Page met someone else in Budapest. For example, a Russian national residing in the Hungarian capital, perhaps a member of the Russian Embassy. The FBI, working together with secret service agents, might already have been following Page’s moves during that trip. If that is the case, we might eventually find out more about it. I disagree with one of Panyi’s informants who proposed that Page went to Budapest for a lark. There was a purpose to that trip, we just don’t know what it was and whether it was in any way nefarious.

November 13, 2017
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Michael Kaplan
Guest

Dear Professor Balogh (I am back to formal address as it seems more appropriate), thanks for conveying the shock that Orban’s American Hungarian advisor had about Carter Page’s ignorance about Hungary, let alone the rest of the region. I can only imagine that official must even be more shocked that Trump et al probably get Budapest mixed up with Bucharest.
The foolish Orban regime hires the greatest fools in the Hungarian diaspora, let alone in Hungary itself only to encounter fools as strange as they are. Best, Michael Kaplan

Andy
Guest

Carter Page, the oddball, village clown

wrfree
Guest

Incredible but par for the course. Another airhead and on-the-make chump for Trump who comprise that group as big fans of Russia residing in the administration. If we were at war that boy would be contemplating his fate. ‘Obfuscation’ could only go so far under the circumstances.

tappanch
Guest

“The higher the corporate tax rate, the more profits are shifted” to tax havens. Exception: Hungary, which sports the third highest tax hiding rate and low corporate tax rate at the same time.

p. 39
http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/TWZ2017.pdf

comment image

http://index.hu/gazdasag/2017/11/13/paradise_papers_adoelkerules_offshore_zucman/

Observer
Guest

Nice!
This indicates that despite the legal fig leaves over the corrupt transactions the protagonists feel insecure and stash their ill gotten gains far out of sight and reach. There is not other conceivable reason with the very low corporate and income taxes.

Member

There are three conceivable reasons I can think of:
1) Hundreds of Hungarian companies sold themselves to fictitious offshore parent companies in the 1990s and 2000s. Now, they could come clean, but they don’t want to pay the penalties associated with coming clean.
2) The burden on Hungarian companies is rather high when you factor in healthcare contributions, pension payments and other mandatory expenses. If a company makes 100 forints, it can count on keeping around 55, when all is said and done.
3) Orban, Rogan, Matolcsy and cronies are pumping public money offshore.

Observer
Guest

Alex
1. The going offshore amounts-wise really took off after 2010, e.g. village projects awarded to cos from Man and Belize (from a list of over 50 such in 2012?).
2. We are talking corporate tax here. The other levies are payable by all operating here, offshore or not.
3. Spot on.

Marty
I doubt the multies part, because last year GE broght a huge chunk of profit to be taxed here, i.e. the very low corp tax makes Hun a tax heaven.

Marty
Guest

This is also because of Hungary’s very heavy reliance on sophisticated foreign multinationals. These multinationals like Audi, Merzedes-Benz, TEVA, General Electric, Bridgestone Tyres etc. all use various taxation loopholes. They are probably much more tax conscious (and have the necessary budget to pay for such structures) than an average indigenous Hungarian company.

Ferenc
Guest

Don’t think so, if you were right, than Czech and especially Slovakia should be much much ‘higher’ in the order (now they’re 2nd from last)

Member

Indigenous Hungarian companies are not tax conscious? Tax-dodging is a national sport second only to soccer!

I have worked for at least two mom-and-pop Hungarian firms that were owned by ficitious parent companies in tax havens. It is not necessarily expensive. You can register a mailbox company in Delaware for $100.

Marty
Guest

Alex, Ferenc: Local firms avoid taxes in a different way – like not booking sales at all. Multinationals have to book sales so they have to resort to more sophisticated tricks. Since they export a lot VAT is not a big issue for them whereas for locals it’s a big deal. Also Hungarian firms cheat on payroll taxes and levies, again multinationals are very compliant in this respects (compared to locals). Hungarians need tricks to avoid dividend tax (to take after tax profit out of the firm) again that’s not an issue for multinationals who have have arranged optimum shareholding structures to minimize dividend tax.

I agree that tax dodging is huge but the question is what is the cumulative weight of all these mom and pop shops re the entire economy and whether the corporate tax is an issue for local companies at all. I think the rate is low for small firms and so the locals cheat on different taxes. The comparison to Slovakia, Czech is relevant – compared to them Hungary is surely greyer in tax matters.

Ferenc
Guest

“The comparison to Slovakia, Czech is relevant – compared to them Hungary is surely greyer in tax matters.””
I have been thinking about it, also taken into consideration Alex’s 3 conceivable reasons (see above). But so far can’t come up with any good explanation.
Note: I think differences in multinationals (amount, policy, dependency, etc.) is not so big for the V4 countries, so WHY the enormous difference in ‘profit shifting’?
Can you come up with an explanation?

PS: in the original paper is stated that the shown ‘profit shifting’ is for 2015 (not mentioned in here posted index graphic!)

Guest

Of course most Hungarian smaller companies cheat – from own experience:
Számla kell?
That’s the first question when I ask about how much I have to pay …
I understand this in a way, often the people are on their second (or third job) and just don’t want the paperwork.
What also happens is that in a transaction the price on paper is much lower so part of the money changes hands under the table …

What’s worse imho:
I know IT specialists who are officially on a part time job – so they get most of their money as “black money” – but in case of illness, being out of work and later in their pension this is of course not included.

PS:
Has anyone read that index article onthe Bp M3?
http://index.hu/english/2017/11/13/budapest_metro_russia_provokatsya_metrowagonmash/

Observer
Guest

Yes, Tnx, and highly recommend. Reads like a spy thriller but this seems like all real events.
I again feel that the Russians have gotten Orban by the b…s and he donas they wish.
Once in the mafia there’s no way back.

Ferenc
Guest

Thanks, very interesting!! Another smashing graph from the article (though not HU related)

Top 0.01% wealth share as % of total household wealth and it’s composition (2000-2009)comment image
pink: offshore wealth
lightblue: all wealth excluding offshore

It shows two things:
*indication of wealth (un)divided over the whole population (surprising to me Scandinavia ‘worse’ than UK, but expected ‘worst’ for, in order, US and ‘topfavorite’ Russia)
*offshore portion of the ‘wealthy’s’ wealth (for Russia enormous, almost 2/3 of ‘wealthy’s’ wealth; for USA seems less than 10% at offshore)
Original source: http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/AJZ2017.pdf

Observer
Guest

Dear FBI,
Why haven’t you questioned Szemerkènyi, who is in the US?

And a tip – having a weekend in Budapest is great, for many single Anglo males unforgettable, but:
– A busy man like page flying 16-18 h just like this …?
– Hungarian officials (or whoever) meeting an Am over their weekend?! Unless it was quite important. What?
– In tightly controlled Orbanistan this cannot happen unless ordered, or at least cleared at minister level.

it quacks like a duck, of it walks like a duck …

eugene
Guest

There are no committed “Atlatists” in and around Fidesz.

You are either 100% committed to Orban and his pro-Russian stance or Fidesz and Orban have no use for you and you are out. It’s very simple.

There is no way Megyesy would still be close to Orban if Megyesy would have the slightest problems with Orban’s pivot to Russia.

Szemerkenyi was sacked but given her previously unflinching commitment to Orban and her husband’s business and professional connections I could certainly believe that her falling out with Orban is just an elaborate game establishing Szemerkenyi’s bona fides within the US foreign policy establishment which is obviously suspicious of people who have a history of being totally committed to Russian/anti-American agents like Orban.

Let’s hope that in 2017 nobody gets fooled by these bullshit “Atlanticist” tales by current or “former” fideszniks.

Ferenc
Guest
It seems the man was first time visiting Budapest, not for pleasure, but for some sort of business opportunities, meeting government representatives and then afterwards doesn’t remember a lot of essential things. A very unbelievable testimony. My take on the behinds of all this: a.Carter didn’t prepare himself for the hearing, is clumsy, and tried to hide as much as possible when having to speak about his Budapest trip b.Carter was well prepared and on purpose was very vague about his Budapest trip, all done to get people going into search into this, an therewith hiding something/somebody else (no clue what that might be). Anyway on HU side, journalists should really dig into this, get on the table why, where, with whom, about what Mr.Carter was really in Budapest 2016.Aug. Shouldn’t be too difficult I think, and when they hit walls blocking them to get info, it would mean certain people have really something to hide. When more and more info about his trip is becoming clear, it probably will answer which of the above options is most likely the case. So HU journalist GO FOR IT!! PS: for who wants to read Carter’s testimony about Budapest, it’s on pages… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

The AJK-Gordon link isn’t working (anymore?), their conference site seems closed, so checked their own website: http://www.ajtk.hu .
Found following about JD Gordon’s 2016.Dec visit/lecture:
*2016.Dec.01: “A Fehér Ház Meghódítása / How the White House Was Won”
*program – http://www.ajtk.hu/program-en/81/how-the-white-house-was-won
*lecture (incl.in special magazine) – http://www.ajtk.hu/uploaded_media/kiadvany3/Fokuszban_USA.pdf

Ferenc
Guest

Antall Jozsef Knowledge Center (AJTK) has a biography books series: Kohl, Reagan, Thatcher, Bush Sr., Teltschik (Kohl advisor) and C.Rice (Bush Jr. foreign minister). Pretty one-sided, (apart of being financed by OV&Co) shows which knowledge they stand for…

Ferenc
Guest

JD Gordon 2014.Nov at AJTK, titled “Our Past and Present in the Shadow of The Cold War” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk8pyKoNE-k
Just watched a bit at the beginning and herewith some things said:
*AJTK doubled staff and events in one year (since JDG’s 2013 visit) [thanks to OV…]
*Cold war was about ‘marxist-leninist thoughts’ versus ‘liberal democracy’, that’s not the case anymore… [true, in HU ‘il’ is added…]
*countries which are not so respectful of the ‘rule of law’ move into the vacuum (caused by weakening in US foreign policy) [‘rule of law’ in Hungary? add ‘selective’ in front, and might be correct, BUT then it’s not the real thing anymore…]
Well what can one say: some relevant words about… Hungary today!!

Istvan
Guest
As Eva said I see it differently. When James Comey, the fired director of the FBI was leading the Russia investigation, he secured permission from a secret court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to tap the communications of Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Now that Szemerkényi is resident in the USA and is out from under diplomatic immunity she to is subject to FBI interview or even testimony before the Grand Jury empaneled as part of the Russia investigation about what Page was doing during his visit to Budapest. The fact that Szemerkényi was removed as US ambassador by team Orban and her appointment as as executive vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) clearly indicates she may have been cooperating with both the CIA and the FBI. The special counsel appointed by the US Justice Department Robert Mueller is likely pressuring Page into being a cooperating witness against Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, just as he did with Trump’s very young former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos and his mother live close to my own home on the north side of Chicago by the way and he has many ties to the Greek community… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Again, same Szabolcs Ferenc was with MET Group which was given the gas deal by MOL so “privatizing” at HUF 100+ billion.

petofi
Guest

I’m up to two showers a day.
Once Dopey blows the world up, what I’ll miss the most will be a shower and a ‘zsiros kenyer’…

Ferenc
Guest
OT – OV mouthman complaining about other media OV’s mouthman Schmidt, no sorry Kovács Z.complained on his blog that The Washington Post didn’t want to publish his replies to some of their published articles (e.g. Anne Applebaum), they informed him he could go to the comments section under the articles online. He made a whole post about this on his blog starting as follows: “Echo chambers – the lack of different opinions on a certain issue – are threatening people’s right to information in the modern age.” And finishing with: “In the 21st century, it is sad to see once prestigious publications like The Washington Post turn their back on basic democratic principles like plurality and the principle of letting the other side have their say. By creating these echo chambers where no dissenting voices can be heard, they engage in a not-so-subtle form of censorship, and that’s worrying.” Tja Tja Tja, what can one say to such… KZ first look to ‘your own’ media (‘Kormány Szervezett Media’ aka.Koszmedia), are these showing any plurality? Any other opinions get space on Your Public/State Media (‘Közmedia’: media supposed to be from and for ALL the people in Hungary!!)?? So in short first… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Re:….. ZK …. communications czar

Anyone in the orbit of his pronouncements must be ready for the rigors of intellectual combat. It will be a battle of wills over thought with a mode of Orwellian ‘K-speak’ always driving toward that precious high ground for thought advantage and attempting to narrow the range of those thoughts in the opposition.

This perhaps must be necessary and can be a challenge when one is in the position of constantly and untiringly defending nationalism, bigotry , corruption and medieval feudal loyalties. Thoughts contrary to K-speak are received as heresy and in Orwell’s words, move ‘cavalry horses answering the bugle…..’Charge! yells the hussar. Such is life as battle in the Kovacsian ‘echo chamber’. 😎

George
Guest

Of all the virtues of democratic governance, transparency is the most lacking in Hungary. It is cultural and self-fulfilling to a degree because no one believes anyone in power would tell the truth anyway, and more disclosures would mean just more obfuscation. The EU was supposed to insist on institutional reforms, but it has no tool – short of expulsion – to press a government that is so committed to misrule.

Ferenc
Guest

OT – RIP Humanity
And meanwhile these sort of things happen just west of the Buda Hills: https://budapestbeacon.com/residents-perbal-mistake-sri-lankan-volunteers-migrants-call-police/
May be during my next visit, I’ll paint my face to show solidarity and personally feel how ‘migrants’ are currently treated in Hungary…

Guest

They probably were too “intellectual” and well clothed to be mistaken for Roma …
My wife probably would call the locals: bunko paraszt …
I’ll ask her later -right now she’s watching Game of Thrones, season 7
That series is even more murderous than Hungarian politics btw.