US intelligence chiefs presented President-elect Donald Trump last week with documents containing unsubstantiated claims that Russians were in possession of compromising personal and financial information about him, multiple US media reports stated on Tuesday.
They also informed him of exchanges between his surrogates and Russian intermediaries during the campaign. Both claims were made in a two-page note they gave him with a report on Russian meddling in the elections last Friday.
These claims came on a day Trump’s cabinet nominees began their confirmation hearings, with Jeff Sessions – for attorney general – going first, and a day before the President-elect is scheduled to hold a much-awaited news conference.
Trump reacted angrily to the report, writing in all-caps on Twitter, his go-to social media platform: “FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH-HUNT!”
His aides and sympathetic news outlets ran variations of the denial, hash-tagged #FakeNews.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign alums seemed angry too, but for a very different reason. Some of these allegations had been around for a while, but media outlets that knew of them chose to ignore it for one reason or the other.
“Today has brought a gush of reporting that outlets knew about and sat on prior to November 8,” Brian Fallon, former Clinton campaign spokesman wrote on Twitter. “I repeat: certain media outlets were told this prior to November 8,” he added in another post.
No one published them. Until Tuesday, that is.
But no outlet reported details of the damaging information, saying they were unverified and unsubstantiated. The document itself was uploaded by a news publication that said it would let the American people make up their own minds.
CNN, which broke the story Tuesday, said claims about Russia possessing compromising information on Trump were based on memos from a former British intelligence member whose past work was reportedly found credible by the US intelligence.
The claims, being examined by the FBI, were apparently made by Russian sources who gave details of the compromising information, meetings between Trump surrogates and Russian intermediaries, and where they took place.
Though it wasn’t clear, the report seemed to suggest that the two-page synopsis culled from some 35 pages of memos from the former British spy were part of opposition research — political dirt — first commissioned by Trump’s Republican rivals during the primaries, and then by Democrats after he won.
Intelligence sources told CNN they decided to append the two-page note to the report on poll meddling to demonstrate that while Russians had damaging information on both parties, they only released those pertaining to Democrats.
The American intelligence community has said that Russia, in its assessment, meddled in the elections on President Vladimir Putin’s instructions to undermine Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the presidency.
Trump has been openly derisive of the intelligence assessment partly because he views it as an attempt to delegitimise his election — he called it a “political witch-hunt” and only tangentially acknowledged it after the intelligence briefing.
US lawmakers were briefed about Trump surrogates being in touch with Russian government intermediaries in classified briefings in late 2016, prompting Harry Reid – leader of senate Democrats – to ask the FBI to investigate them.