Summary: The Trump-Russia story creates a situation without parallel since Watergate (Iran-Contra was a sideshow). The news gives us the usual confusing mish-mash. Here is an outline of the story, with links and pointers to the best analysis I have seen so far. Read, decide for yourself — and watch this story evolve. See the follow-up: Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia.
- The story so far.
- Follow-ups to the story.
- Analysis of the story.
- For More Information.
(1) The story so far.
Christopher Steele, former SIS (aka MI6) agent and director of London-based Orbis Intelligence Ltd., gathered a file of dirt about Trump — first paid for by Republicans opposing Trump, then by Democrats opposing Trump (details here; the clients carefully concealed themselves). Steele gave the file to the FBI in August 2016 (others did so later). With no visible results from the FBI, Steele gave it to others (e.g., David Corn, who wrote an October article in Mother Jones). They passed it to others (e.g., to Senator McCain, who gave it to the FBI). See The Guardian for details.
At some point US intelligence agencies took it seriously, in combination with information from other sources. The file consists of memos dated from 20 June to 13 December 2016. The memos have misspellings and minor errors. For example, it says that Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney, visited the Czech Republic. That was a different Michael Cohen.
On January 10 CNN broke the story, saying that Trump and Obama were briefed about their concerns about Trump’s ties to Russia (including allegations in the file) by four senior intelligence directors: James Clapper (DNI), James Comey (FBI), John Brennan (CIA), and Mike Rogers (NSA). NBC said Trump was not briefed, and might not have received the two page summary. Some members of Congress also received the summary. Later that day Buzzfeed published a story about it, including the full 35-page file.
Update: Wednesday night James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, released a statement that punctured the fevered speculation by Democrats about the Trump-Russia file. The key lines…
“The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.”
(2) Follow-ups to the story
At a press conference, Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said “The Kremlin has no compromising dossier on Trump, such information isn’t consistent with reality and is nothing but an absolute fantasy.” He also said, with a straight face, that Russia “does not engage in collecting compromising material”.
The New York Times mildly criticized Buzzfeed for publishing “unverified claims”. Margaret Sullivan at the WaPo spoke more clearly: “How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump.” They know that this media clown show will further erode the news media’s little remaining credibility. Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions surveys show that in June 2016 only 20% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. Since then their overwhelming coverage of the microscopic Clinton scandals has eroded the Left’s trust; their coverage of the Russia-Trump story probably has done the same to the Right’s trust. News media without Trust are just pretentious Buzzfeeds.
(3) Analysis of the story
The salacious Trump sex rumors have “penetrated” the public consciousness and half the country will believe them regardless of verification.
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) January 11, 2017
There are three obvious big questions. First, why has the FBI not released the results of their investigation of this file? It has scores of easily testable details; they have had five months to work on this. How can they know so little about this 10 days before the inauguration? For example, McClatchy reports that “A Russian venture capitalist and tech expert whose name and company are mentioned in the now-notorious document alleging connections between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian hackers says no intelligence officers have ever contacted him about the accusations, which he says are false.” Also see this analysis of the rumors of the FBI seeking a surveillance warrant on the Trump campaign.
Second, why did the IC circulate a memo with such incendiary content with what appear to be insufficient disclosures about the unverified nature of its claims? Leaks to the press were certain.
Third, why do Americans so credulously believe government officials? As a reminder, here is a big list of their past lies about vital matters.
The best analysis I’ve seen is by the team at Lawfare: “About that Explosive Trump Story: Take a Deep Breath“. Their advice…
“All of which is to say to everyone: slow down, and take a deep breath. We shouldn’t assume either that this is simply a “fake news” episode directed at discrediting Trump or that the dam has now broken and the truth is coming out at last. We don’t know what the reality is here, and the better part of valor is not to get ahead of the facts — a matter on which, incidentally, the press deserves a lot of credit.”
As usual, Glenn Greenwald goes to the heart of the issue: “The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer“. Perhaps they have good reason to do so. Perhaps the IC agency Directors believe Trump will fire them, and for the sake of the nation want to damage his administration while they can.
Whichever it is, there’s pretty clearly a full-on conflict, now right out in the open, between the IC and the incoming President https://t.co/gBhYFNyrYW
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 10, 2017
David French at National Review gives a fair summary. Especially note how he debunks Buzzfeed’s justification for publishing these rumors.
“How can ‘Americans make up their own minds’ when they have no ability to fact-check the allegations? The public knows nothing about the sources, nothing about the underlying claims, and has no means of discovering the truth. Buzzfeed admits that ‘there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.’ It’s been using its journalistic resources trying to verify the claims for “weeks” and hasn’t been able to. But ‘Americans’ can somehow do what Buzzfeed can’t?”
A devastating debunking: “The Trump Dossier Is Fake — And Here Are The Reasons Why” by Paul Roderick Gregory at Forbes. He is research fellow at the Hoover Institution, professor of economics at the U of Houston, and a professor at the German Institute for Economic Research Berlin.
After reading this post, you know more about this story than some of the journalists covering it.
The truth is out there. We might not see it for months or years.
The consequences might be severe. Pay attention.
(6) For More Information
See the follow-up: Deciphering the scandalous rumors about Trump in Russia.
The intelligence community’s handling of the Trump-Russia file is not the oddest thing they have done lately. See Masha Gessen’s devastating analysis of the IC’s report about Russian interference in the US election, relying on weak or fake evidence to draw dubious conclusions: “Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence“. Gessen Masha is the author of several books on Russia.
- We live in an age of ignorance, but can decide to fix this – today.
- Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance.
- Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America.
- The secret source of fake news. Its discovery will change America.
- A new year’s gift: two tools to help discover truth in the news.
Two good books about Putin’s Russia