Its 35 pages told the story of a $1.6 billion wire transfer from petroleum giant ExxonMobil to a European office of a Chinese mining company, which a day later transferred 1.4 billion euros to the Trump Organization, the privately held conglomerate founded by President Trump.
The transfers appeared to have taken place in mid-June, at the exact same time that Exxon’s then chief executive, Rex Tillerson, was in St. Petersburg at an economic forum, which Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended. Less than six months later, President-elect Trump — victor in an election that the US intelligence community said the Russian government had interfered with — nominated Tillerson to be his secretary of state.
To Ariel, who is married to an American and calls Russia’s tampering in the elections “an act of war,” the implications of these billion-dollar transfers were clear: Exxon had secretly bribed Trump to name Tillerson to the powerful cabinet post.
Alarmed, Ariel passed the documents to a network of Democratic and anti-Trump activists who in turn shared them with prominent news organizations including BuzzFeed News.
The only problem: The documents were phony. The wire transfers never occurred, and the entire set of documents appear to have been forged as part of an elaborate scam.