A nice catch by Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller. In his recently revealed memo on a meeting with Trump in January 2017, then FBI Director James Comey told President-elect Trump that CNN was looking for a “news hook” so that it could publish salacious information contained in the Steele dossier. As it turned out, it was Comey’s mention of the dossier that became CNN’s hook to publish a story about it. And based on CNN’s story, Buzzfeed dumped the entire dossier in public on the grounds that if the FBI was briefing Trump about it, it must be news. From the Comey memo [emphasis added]:
I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected, “there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes.” He then said something about him being the kind of guy who didn’t need to “go there” and laughed (which I understood to be communicating that he didn?t need to pay for sex). He said “2013” to himself, as if trying to remember that period of time, but didn’t add anything. He said he always assumed that hotel rooms he stayed in when he travels are wired in some way. I replied that I do as well.
I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands. I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the FBI has the material or
REDACTEDand that we were keeping it – I very close-hold. He said he couldn’t believe they hadn’t gone with it. I said it was inflammatory stuff that they would get killed for reporting straight up from the source reports.
There has been some talk before that this was what motivated the briefing but the text of the memo now this confirms it, with the specific reference to CNN. The meeting between Trump and Comey (with no one else present) took place on January 6, 2017. On January 12, 2017, CNN published a story titled, “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” So if only two people were present, how did CNN get the story? Looking at the story itself for clues, it’s very vague on what was said to Trump and seems to rely mostly on the documents prepared for the meeting:
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 allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump…
CNN has confirmed that the synopsis was included in the documents that were presented to Mr. Trump but cannot confirm if it was discussed in his meeting with the intelligence chiefs.
So, to sum this up. CNN and others were placing pressure on the intelligence agencies regarding the dossier. The possibility some of the contents would be published led then-Director Comey to brief Trump about the dossier. Details about materials prepared for that briefing were then leaked to CNN which now had the news hook it wanted to get the ball rolling. And of course, Buzzfeed seized the moment to publish the unconfirmed source material because Buzzfeed.
We still don’t know who leaked the information to CNN. Comey has proven that he’s willing to leak material if it suits him, so that’s one possibility. The fact that Obama was also apparently briefed raises another obvious possibility. But CNN says it had “multiple US officials” so a third possibility is that someone who helped prepare the materials at the FBI decided it was too good to sit on. That would be someone with an interest in trashing Trump who was willing to leak the material to the press and then lie about it. Why does that sound so familiar? Finally, there’s a fourth possibility which is that this was a “Murder on the Orient Express” situation in which all of the above leaked the information all at once.
The fact is, there are too many possibilities to really narrow this down. What does seem clear is that the FBI knew CNN and others were itching for an excuse to run with the dossier and these briefing materials provided that hook. Was the entire briefing a set up by partisans just for that purpose? That no longer seems impossible given some of the partisan animus at the FBI. At a minimum, partisans eager to sabotage President-elect Trump quickly seized on it to ensure word of the Clinton-funded dossier finally spread beyond Mother Jones.