On 10 January 2017, various web sites reported secondhand that United States intelligence officials had “just confirmed” that President-elect Donald Trump had been blackmailed by Russian operatives:
CNN has just reported that last week the heads of eight intelligence agencies presented information to both President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump that show Russian operatives claiming to have “compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”
This would mean that the Russians have the ability to blackmail Trump into doing whatever they wish. Not only do they have this dirt on Donald Trump, but they were constantly reminding him of it – and telling him what they wanted to see out of him throughout the campaign, since Trump campaign surrogates were in “continuing” contact with Russian government surrogates throughout the entire campaign.
The article is referencing compiled memos containing information given, in part, by a former British intelligence officer. A summary of the memos was presented to President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump in early January 2017. The memos had been leaked to the media as early as 31 October 2016, but were made public in full on 10 January 2017 when they were published by Buzzfeed.
Contrary to the claim that the information contained was “confirmed” by intelligence officers, credible media outlets note that the claims are unverified. According to the New York Times:
The chiefs of America’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald J. Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Mr. Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.
Buzzfeed echoed the skeptical tone:
The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Barack Obama and Trump.
While the news was being reported as “breaking,” the information had actually been explored in depth in a 31 October 2016 article by Mother Jones. Unlike Mother Jones, however, Buzzfeed opted to publish the underlying document in full even though its provenance and truthfulness was unverified:
A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.
The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. CNN reported that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Barack Obama and Trump.
Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.
The 36-page document’s most discussed claim was that the Russian government possesses a video of Trump engaging in an orgy with prostitutes who perform a “golden shower” or urinate on each other in an effort to defile a bed once slept on by the Obamas because (according to the report) Trump “hated” them.
It also claims that the regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin has been actively “cultivating, assisting and supporting” Trump for five years:
Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.
David Corn, the Mother Jones reporter who broke the story months ago, wrote on Twitter that he chose not to publish the memos because he could not confirm the allegations made within them.
Meanwhile, conservative media outlets labeled the memo a hoax, citing both internal evidence (e.g., document headers allegedly don’t resemble those of actual U.S. intelligence memos) and 4Chan message board discussions indicating its contents were fabricated. Others countered by asserting that the memo (whether its contents were accurate or not) clearly did not originate with 4Chan pranksters and that it was extremely unlikely U.S. intelligence agencies had been fooled by a crude forgery.
According to CNN, American intelligence officials are investigating the information. We reached out to the Trump camp for comment and have not received a response. However, Trump took to Twitter (as he often does) with a comment that was likely related to the memos:
FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017