What the hell happened this week?
On Tuesday CNN released a report that the US intelligence community has been circulating and investigating allegations that Russia may have compromising materials (kompromat) on Donald Trump, dating back to his visit to the country in 2013, including sensitive personal and financial information. The allegations include offers of financial ‘sweetheart’ deals for the Trump organization, contact and exchange of information between Russian officials and the Trump campaign during the election, and salacious sexual acts caught on tape.
Hours later, Buzzfeed released a 2-page summary of those allegations (the original classified report was 35 pages), composed of intelligence gathered by former MI6 (British intelligence) agent Christopher Steele. Steele works for a consulting firm (London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd) that was hired during the 2016 election to gather opposition research on Donald Trump, first by Republican-backers (read: rich people) during the primaries and then by Democratic-backers (other rich people) during the general.
This dossier was formed through Steele’s extensive contact network in Russia and Eastern Europe, which the FBI believes to be credible based on Steele’s past work, most notably his recent exposure of corruption in the world soccer governing body FIFA.
Intelligence agencies (FBI/CIA/NSA) and news outlets have all had this information for months and have worked to verify the claims; none felt they had enough corroboration to move forward with publishing. However, the FBI deemed the allegations credible enough to brief President Obama, the President-Elect himself, and the Gang of Eight in Congress by including this 2-page dossier as an addendum to the previous briefing on Russian interference in the election. Intelligence officials are clearly taking these allegations seriously; this is not “fake news”. The House Intelligence Committee voted to have all members of the House briefed on the allegations, which will happen on Friday.
During his press conference Wednesday (his first in 168 days), Donald Trump vehemently denied the allegations, characterizing them as a smear and fake news. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement later in the day saying that he spoke with the President-Elect about the allegations against him, also stating that the intelligence community has not yet made a judgment on them and that it was not basing its judgment in any way on the 2-page dossier compiled by Steele. This largely confirms CNN’s original reporting, and there is also some evidence to suggest that there is ‘”more than one tape”, “audio and video”, on “more than one date”, in “more than one place,”‘ from a source other than Steele.
We’ve gone through all of this without even getting to the inconsistent nature of James Comey’s public letter on the handling of Hillary Clinton’s email case 11 days prior to Election Day (which will now be subject to investigation by the Justice Department), Harry Reid’s letter to Comey in October accusing the FBI head of holding back “explosive” information on Trump , and the FBI’s various FISA requests to monitor Trump campaign officials over the course of 2016. We will learn much more in the coming days and weeks; stay vigilant for what is quite possibly the biggest political scandal in American history.