The Conspiracy Theories About Comey's Dossier Briefing Are Absurd

The latest conspiracy theories about Trump and the pee tape really are ridiculous. (Try to contain your surprise.)

Jonathan Chait has an excellent piece in New York Magazine debunking those conspiracy theories with surgical precision. If you are the sort that cannot distinguish facts and logic from the person offering them, stop reading now. You’ve already heard all you need to know. If facts and logic matter to you, read on.


The theory, put out in an article at The Federalist first but now widely accepted as a “known fact”, is that Comey’s briefing informing Trump about the dossier was a clanestine operation intended to give CNN the news hook it was seeking to justify reporting on it.

Chait dismantles this nonsense in a few sentences, pointing out that plenty of news hooks already existed:

If you read the CNN report on the dossier that Hemingway describes, though, literally the first sentence describes the fact that President Obama was briefed on the dossier before Trump was told about it: “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.” And then, if you go a few paragraphs down in the CNN story, you learn that the dossier’s allegations were also “mentioned in classified briefings for congressional leaders last year.”

So CNN knew Congress had been briefed on the dossier in 2017. And it also knew Obama had been briefed on the dossier. Hemingway’s theory is that CNN would not have reported either of these facts without the additional revelation that Trump had also been briefed on the dossier.

I have an extremely hard time believing CNN would refuse to run a story revealing for the first time that there was a dossier of explosive allegations against the president-elect that had been shared with both Congress and the president of the United States, because they needed the additional information that the president-elect had also been briefed in order to run it.


York’s conspiracy theory starts with Hemingway’s silly premise and makes it even sillier. He claims that when Trump demanded loyalty from Comey, he was really saying, in essence: “Please don’t blackmail me.”

Chait is able to dismantle this additional nonsense, too, in a couple of paragraphs:

This analysis obviously omits a massive amount of context: Trump asking Comey specifically to let off Michael Flynn (who, at the time, was the only official known to be under investigation for his Russian ties); Trump’s months and months of attempting to control multiple aspects of the Department of Justice, including demands that it investigate his opponents; and indeed Trump’s long-standing belief that the Department of Justice has always been and always should be a weapon to protect the president’s interests. To believe Trump’s demand for “loyalty” was anything other than an insistence that the FBI protect his interests requires ignoring everything Trump’s said and done about this subject for his entire career.

What’s more, if it’s true, as York says, that Trump’s demand for loyalty was merely merely an innocuous request that Comey not leak anything hostile to him, why didn’t Trump say this himself? Indeed, why has he spent a year denying he ever said this at all? As soon as Comey reported having been asked for loyalty in 2017, the White House insisted no such words were ever uttered. As recently as this week, Trump has been claiming, “I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty.” York has produced an alibi on Trump’s behalf that Trump never thought to use himself over all these months.


Chait concludes by asking: what if Comey had hidden the existence of the pee tape from Trump, and he had been blindsided by it later. Would these people have praised Comey for that?

Of course not. He’s damned either way, according to the analysis of mindless partisans.

Hemingway’s premise is ridiculous. York’s is even worse. Chait destroys them both.

Before the era of Trump, the previous three sentences, in that order, would not be something I would ever expect to write. But much has changed in the Bizarro world in which we now live and write.



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