At least three different news outlets are reporting this today, CNN, CBS, and, most significantly, NBC.
NEW: @NBCNightlyNews sources: FBI Director Comey informed Pres.-elect Trump about the "dossier" after the formal intel briefing Friday.
— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) January 13, 2017
Breaking: FBI Dir Comey briefed PEOTUS Trump on two-page synopsis of Russian claims in one-on-one conversation Friday – sources to #CNN
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 12, 2017
FBI director James Comey personally briefed president-elect Trump last week about Russian hacking claims, CBS News has confirmed pic.twitter.com/RHz2PcMg9s
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 13, 2017
ABC also heard that Trump and Comey had a conversation after last Friday’s briefing “around the intelligence briefing on Russian hacking,” but they didn’t specify (as the other outlets did) that it had to do with the allegations about him having been compromised.
NBC’s reporting is the most noteworthy because it’s a reversal: Two days ago a source told them that Trump hadn’t been briefed about any allegations. Supposedly a short synopsis of the allegations had been prepared but it was prepared as an example of “disinformation” and was never actually discussed with Trump. That appeared to blow a hole through the original CNN claim that intel chiefs had brought up the allegations with Trump during the Friday briefing. Now it looks like CNN’s story was right — with an open question still remaining about why the material was discussed. Was it, as NBC claims, to show him an example of “disinformation” produced by unreliable private sources, or was it because they think there might be something to it?
Joe Biden said yesterday that he and Obama were also briefed on the allegations about Trump:
“I think it’s something that obviously the agency thinks they have to track down,” Biden said. He added later, “It surprised me in that it made it to the point where the agency, the FBI thought they had to pursue it.”…
Biden said that in the briefing he and Obama received from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, there were “no conclusions drawn” from the uncorroborated dossier, which was produced in August and then released publicly this week by the media. Biden said it was “totally ancillary” to the purpose of the meeting, which was to brief Obama on a report he ordered documenting Russian interference in the U.S. campaign.
“As a matter of fact, the president was like, ‘What does this have anything to do with anything?'” Biden said. He said intelligence leaders responded by saying “Well, we feel obliged to tell you, Mr. President, because you may hear about it. We’re going to tell him,” referring to Trump.
Right. As noted yesterday, that’s the likeliest explanation of why Trump was briefed. It’s not that the BuzzFeed dossier is credible, it’s that it exists and it’s loose on Capitol Hill. They didn’t want Trump to be blindsided when it turned up somewhere online and, especially, they didn’t want him to think that they were the ones who leaked it when it did. They were probably trying to show good faith by giving him advance warning of what they knew in hopes that he wouldn’t blame the IC when the dossier surfaced publicly. That, er, seems not to have worked.
Despite their public agnosticism about the dossier, it’s hard to believe U.S. intelligence has no view on whether any of the accusations in it are true. They must have checked it out by now, given how long the memos have been floating around in spy circles. Maybe they’ve quietly debunked the claims but are holding that information back to hurt Trump, as payback for all the criticism he’s lobbed at them over the past few months? Or, if you prefer a more cloak-and-dagger theory, maybe they’re keeping their cards close because they’re still quietly investigating Trump and his inner circle. This tidbit from David Ignatius got a lot of buzz online last night:
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”
According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the Trump team’s contacts helped discourage the Russians from a counter-retaliation, maybe that’s a good thing. But we ought to know the facts.
What Flynn might have said to the ambassador is arguably less interesting than the fact that the U.S. government knows that he made those calls — and that Flynn would make those calls knowing full well that the government would probably find out. It’s no surprise, after all, that American intelligence would be monitoring the Russian ambassador’s communications. But Flynn was a top intel official himself; surely he understood that his old colleagues would detect his chats with Kislyak. So why did he do it? And is it possible that Flynn’s communications are also being monitored, not just the ambassador’s? Normally we’d all say that’s nuts — he’ll be the country’s National Security Advisor a week from today — but given the degree of hostility between Trump and the IC, who knows?
Anyway. The only seemingly certain thing after a week of sensational accusations is that CNN was right that Trump was told last week about allegations that he’d been compromised by Russia. Why he was informed, how credible the IC believes those allegations to be, and whether there’s any current investigation of him and his inner circle vis-a-vis Russia are all mysteries.