Quite a bombshell from Jake Tapper and CNN. It suuuure is interesting that this is dropping the night before Trump’s big press conference, just in time for the press to tear him to shreds over it face-to-face.
Mike Pence is going to make a great president!
Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN…
The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials…
CNN has reviewed a 35-page compilation of the memos, from which the two-page synopsis was drawn. The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.
“The FBI … has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump,” CNN notes, but they have investigated the former British intel official who put the memos together and found him and his sources credible enough to include the two-page synopsis in their briefing with Trump last Friday. So sensitive is the information contained in there, supposedly, that only Obama, Trump himself, and eight top leaders in the House and Senate have seen it — for now. It was included in the briefing partly to try to convince Trump that Russia really did have information on him too but had refrained from leaking it because they wanted him to win. The “kompromat” material is the dog that didn’t bark, the evidence that Putin had a clear favorite in the election. Although, if the explosive accusation in the excerpt about a “continuing exchange of information” between Team Trump and the Russians during the campaign is true, Trump may have already known that.
If any of this sounds familiar, that’s understandable: Mother Jones published a story in October, a week before the election, laying out most of the same particulars. A former intel official from a western country had gathered some damning oppo research for anti-Trump Republicans, MJ claimed, and had heard from sources that there “was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.” He shared his findings with the FBI. From the memos, allegedly:
“Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.” It also reported that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls.”
Around the same time, shortly after Comey released his letter announcing that the Hillary email investigation was being reopened, Harry Reid sent an angry letter to him that read in part, “In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” No one paid much attention to that because Reid is a sleazy troll who was willing to smear Mitt Romney by accusing him baselessly of not paying income taxes. But as it turns out, Reid might not have been blowing smoke in this case. Evidently whispers about Trump’s Russian connections have been circulating on the Hill for months. (As Senate minority leader, Reid would have been privy to the sensitive information mentioned in CNN’s story above.) The Times reported a week before Election Day that the FBI had been looking into possible connections between Team Trump and Russia since the summer but had found nothing — at least to that point.
The recurring question whenever Trump is accused of being some sort of stooge for Russia is “What could the Russians possibly have on him that would damage him?” He survived the “Access Hollywood” tape. He survived accusations of sexual assault. He survived about 8,000 different “gaffes” and outre statements on the trail that would have sunk any other candidate. Even if Russia had covert video of Trump in a compromising position, why would that damage him? He’s a playboy who’s boasted about his conquests for years. A sex scandal wouldn’t leave a scratch. One thing that would hurt him, though, is the mere fact of coordination with Russia. If it could be proved that his campaign and the Kremlin were quietly colluding during the campaign, especially if money was changing hands, that would wreck him forever with everyone outside his own hardcore populist base. He’d have to somehow govern despite being perceived by many as an illegitimate president, a de facto Russian agent, and he’s already under suspicion for that thanks to his curiously consistent apologetics for Putin and Russia’s role in the hacking. I don’t know how he could recover. Taking a very hard line on Russia as president to try to “prove” his independence would be just the beginning.
The CNN news also makes sense of an odd exchange today on the Hill between Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Comey, who was testifying about the Russia hackings. Do you currently have an investigation open into whether there were contacts between Trump’s campaign and the Russian foreign ministry, as Russia has alleged, asked Wyden? I can’t comment publicly on investigations, Comey replied, an answer that made some Democrats on social media mighty unhappy. It’s true that as a general rule the FBI doesn’t comment on whether it is or isn’t investigating someone, but a very prominent exception to that rule was made a few months ago with momentous consequences for the country.
Comey's response here is just…breathtaking. This son of a bitch commented on a bullshit investigation of our candidate in the 11th hour. https://t.co/XRT4a9y488
— Elliott Lusztig (@ezlusztig) January 10, 2017
Weirdly, Wyden doesn’t press him to explain why it was fine for him to say publicly in late October that the Clinton email investigation had been reopened but not fine now to say whether the Bureau is looking into supposed contacts between Team Trump. Oh well. There are a lot of things in motion here, obviously, but one key consideration for Trump now is having to be very careful about attacking his own intelligence bureaus going forward. If Russia really does have compromising information that would imperil his presidency, the CIA will have it too, assuming it doesn’t already. I wonder, in fact, if that’s why the contents of the memos haven’t been published. There may be an implied threat there: If Trump keeps undermining the agency’s conclusions, maybe those memos will mysteriously leak after all. What a great dynamic for a new administration.
Update: Here’s Tapper’s report.
Our report just now: https://t.co/S8UDLSCU0Z
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 10, 2017
Update: That was fast. BuzzFeed has the memos that CNN is reporting on and has posted them online. Of note: “It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors. The report misspells the name of one company, ‘Alpha Group,’ throughout. It is Alfa Group. The report says the settlement of Barvikha, outside Moscow, is ‘reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates.’ It is not reserved for anyone, and is also populated by the very wealthy.”
Update: The worst stuff, alleging cooperation between the campaign — led by Paul Manafort and Carter Page — and Russia, begins on page 7 of the BuzzFeed memos. Obvious thought: If this were true, would the campaign ever have dared fire Manafort?
Update: A purported answer to the last question appears on page 32. Supposedly it’s Trump lawyer Michael Cohen who steps in for Manafort as chief liaison once he’s gone. But again, why would Trump dismiss him?
Update: A key bit:
The whole thing could be nonsense, but this part points to actual espionage, i.e., spying on Americans for Russia: pic.twitter.com/IsaFAOwkDn
— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) January 10, 2017
Update: And a big question:
My question: are US intel services relying on this dossier straight up or have they vetted the info? https://t.co/3lM7LjpDzL
— Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) January 10, 2017
You’d like to believe that Clapper, Comey, and Brennan wouldn’t have brought this stuff to Trump and Obama unless they had checked out parts of it. But stay tuned.
Update: The, er, splashiest claim in the BuzzFeed memo has to do with Russian prostitutes supposedly being hired to engage in “golden showers” on a bed that was once slept in by the Obamas. There’s simply no way that that detail, if true and if publicly disclosed, would have fatally wounded Trump, a guy who survived the “Access Hollywood” audio — although admittedly it’s easier to say that now in hindsight, after having watched him prove himself to be bulletproof as a candidate, than it would have been early last year. On the other hand, you could approach that detail this way: If the memos were made up whole cloth, surely the author could have come up with something more sinisterly deviant to smear Trump than what he came up with. “Golden showers” is a weird thing to concoct as some sort of presumptive campaign-killer. And as Drew McCoy notes, Trump is a notorious germophobe. That practice seems especially unlikely to please someone like him.
Update: BuzzFeed’s taking heat for having published the memos but I think they may have done Trump a favor by doing so. The material seems thin, especially the salacious stuff; if you didn’t know what was in them when you read the CNN story, you might assume they were more damning than they seem to be. (Although if the stuff about Manafort, Page, and Cohen pans out, that’ll be pretty damning.) The news here is that the chiefs of U.S. intelligence saw something in them that was important enough to bring them to Trump as part of an official briefing. Why? What is it about the veracity of these memos that makes them worth discussing with two presidents?
Update: Trump lawyer Michael Cohen says he’s never been to Prague, as the memos allege:
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) January 11, 2017