Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the Internet and the news are abuzz (yes, I meant to do that, thanks for noticing!) with stories about a salacious BuzzFeed-published document alleging (among other things) that Trump paid prostitutes to pee on a bed that Obama had slept in . . .and that the FSB had recordings of this, and used that to blackmail Trump into taking a more Russia-friendly position during the campaign.
But here’s the thing. Jake Tapper and others at CNN yesterday reported that the intelligence community had briefed Trump and Obama on allegations that the Russians have dirt on Trump:
Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.
The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
Jay Caruso mentioned this morning that Jake Tapper had clarified that the 35-page BuzzFeed-published memo is not the two-page synopsis referred to in the CNN report:
Trying to catch up here. Is the memo Buzzfeed leaked (which may be a 4chan prank) confirmed as the same memo Trump received from the IC?
— Ben Howe (@BenHowe) January 11, 2017
no. It's not.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 11, 2017
I think this deserves its own post, especially since Tapper has since made it very clear since that the two are not the same:
Efforts today to conflate responsible reporting on IC presentation of 2 page annex with irresponsible posting of uncorroborated 35-pager.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 11, 2017
That is not to say that the two are unrelated. They are not. According to the CNN report:
CNN has reviewed a 35-page compilation of the memos, from which the two-page synopsis was drawn. The memos have since been published by Buzzfeed. The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.
Some of the memos were circulating as far back as last summer. What has changed since then is that US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations to the President and President-elect a few days ago.
Meanwhile, people who are very upset about BuzzFeed publishing an unverified report are circulating their own unverified report that the BuzzFeed document was put out by 4Chan.
There may or may not be something to the allegations presented by the intelligence community — but no matter how you slice it, the fact that the intelligence community chose to brief Trump and Obama on these issues is a legitimate story. And the fact that BuzzFeed decided to publish a bunch of unverified allegations does not mean the CNN story is garbage.
I am reminded of the Weiner controversy back in 2011. There, as here, there were several shadowy sources and crazed partisans screaming on both sides. There was a set of alleged contacts between Weiner and some underage girls that seemed suspicious from the beginning, and proved to be a hoax. But the fact that those contacts proved to be a hoax did not automatically mean that Weiner was not inappropriately contacting underage girls (and, as we later learned, he was). But the fact that a story similar to the truth was shown to be dubious and ultimately a hoax made it easier for pro-Weiner partisans to defend him — and to attack those who were trying to report the actual facts in a responsible way. I always wondered, in fact, whether the hoax was perpetrated by pro-Weiner forces seeking to inoculate him from similar allegations that had some facts behind them.
In other words, even if aspects of the memos published by BuzzFeed are wrong, that does not mean that the allegations of the intelligence community are necessarily wrong. (It doesn’t mean they are right, either.)
Partisans are gonna partisan, though, and for many on the Internet, the chances that their views on these stories line up with their partisan views Trump will approach 100%.
UPDATE: On the other hand, this NBC report, if true, totally undercuts the CNN story. NBC claims that Trump was not actually briefed on the two-page report, although the briefers had it available. Worse, NBC suggests that the intelligence community saw the allegations as disinformation: “According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted ‘disinformation.'”
There is a real conflict here between the CNN and NBC reports. I hope CNN addresses the NBC article.