Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.

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.

Donald Trump covering his ears


  1. The story so far.
  2. Follow-ups to the story.
  3. Analysis of the story.
  4. Updates.
  5. Conclusions.
  6. 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.”

Spiral Stairs
The truth is down there, if we wish to learn it.

(2) Follow-ups to the story

Seele has fled and is hiding. Trump tweeted that the story is “A COMPLETE AND TOTAL FABRICATION, UTTER NONSENSE.” His press conference provided little additonal information (transcript and video).

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.

Russia cyber-bear
By Daniel Marsula/Post-Gazette.

(3)  Analysis of the story

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.

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?”

(4)  Updates

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.

(5) Conclusions

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.

The Truth is Out There

(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.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Donald Trump, about fake news, about information and disinformation, and especially these…

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  4. The secret source of fake news. Its discovery will change America.
  5. A new year’s gift: two tools to help discover truth in the news.

Two good books about Putin’s Russia

Inside Putin's Russia
2005. Available at Amazon.
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
2016. Available at Amazon.


19 thoughts on “Here are the facts so far about the Trump-Russia file.”

  1. I’m not keen on Buzzfeed’s coverage, but I am interested in the work Financial Times has done on Trump’s connection to Russian investors who may have been laundering money for the Russian Mob. One article is behind a paywall, but here are links to two others:

    Dirty money: Trump and the Kazakh connection“, 14 Oct 2016 — “FT probe finds evidence a Trump venture has links to alleged laundering network.”

    And “Trump’s Russian riddle“, 14 Aug 2016 — “The Republican nominee became the face of Bayrock, a developer with roots in the Soviet Union”.

    1. Camilla,

      It’s always fun to watch the pearl-clutching response to revelations to the public of standard American practices at the higher levels of business and politics.

      (1) Of the two articles, only the first discusses money laundering.

      (2) It is unusual for an American businessman to be connected with money laundering for criminals — since US banks do most of that. They get wrist-slaps for that as regularly as buses on Manhattan streets.

      (3) Connections with ugly foreign regimes are a standard aspect of business for US megacorps — for which they are frequently (but gently) slapped by Federal authorities.

      (4) Hillary Clinton also has her Russian connection: “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal“, NY Times, 23 April 2015. Since she’s an old hand at this game, going back to her Arkansas days as Bill’s bagman, the obvious connection is there — but no proof of the obvious quid pro quo.

      (5) Kennedy and Nixon would have laughed at all these small-time affairs.

  2. Nice summary of the state of play. #5 in your reply to Camilla is probably the most telling point of all.

    > her Arkansas days as Bill’s bagman

    I’m outraged that you’d use this term to describe a woman who has devoted most of her life to the public good, in particular championing women’s rights in the workplace. Plainly, she was Bill’s bagWOMAN.

    Finally, is it just me or should all Trump quotes be in caps? Somehow it just seems to be the natural thing….

    1. Steve,

      “Plainly, she was Bill’s bagWOMAN”

      Guilty! Sidenote: one immediate response to Trump’s election was the Navy’s decision to scrap the switch to gender-neutral titles. I believe that most of the Left’s pressure for social experimentation by the military will follow this into the trash.

      “is it just me or should all Trump quotes be in caps?”

      I posted the tweet as he wrote it. Perhaps Trump thinks in ALL CAPS.

    1. Jon,

      That’s a good point. No, I’ve seen nothing that says much that is not in Andrew Jack’s 2005 book. I’m sure there are high-quality and more recent books out there. It’s not been something I’ve looked for. Despite the hysteria in the US, I do not see Russia as a major player on the world stage — except for a few areas, such as oil pricing.

      As for Grenier’s article — His qualifications are described as “He co-directs a project, under the aegis of Solidarity Hall, on East-West dialogue.” I’m cautious about articles by people with no obvious knowledge about the subject. I already have enough misconceptions!

  3. Thank you. I try to get people to listen to Putin’s speeches and find out what he actually says. If for no other reason, then to ‘Know thy enemy.’

    1. Jon,

      Great nations always have rivals, especially hegemonic nations (like the US today). In that sense, foreign affairs consists largely of clashes among alliances.

      We have enemies, who would gain from our destruction and are willing to wage war. These days those are mostly non-state organizations (e.g., ISIS).

      We are enemies of States whose we see as threats to our interests. They fight back against our attacks. E.g., Cuba and Iran.

      In what sense is Russia an enemy? In what sense is Putin an “enemy”? Other than for the fact that we need enemies, as the Deep State is structured to fight them.

  4. Oh, I agree. As a matter of fact I called my congressmen last week and said I wanted to see more diplomacy with Russia, not less. What I meant is that so many Americans’ knee jerk reaction is that Putin=Stalin Russia=USSR. I recommended to someone that they watch Putin’s December press conference. His automatic reaction was that all the questions would be staged. Obviously he hadn’t watched it. I pointed out questions about the doping scandal, east-west relations, freeing political prisoners, etc. He never responded.

    So my ‘know thy enemy’ line is an attempt to get people to listen to Putin ‘if for no other reason.’

  5. I found the write up in Amazon of Gessen’s book a bit troubling. It is definitely, and by its own admission, anti-Putin. Reading her Wikipedia entry confirmed that bias. I’ve certainly heard of some of the criticisms, alleged assassinations, repression of journalists, and the like, and was hoping for a clear, honest exploration of the facts, pro and con. Is this book worth reading?


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