James Comey revealed how the FBI inadvertently helped an unverified dossier on President Donald Trump became a hard news story in testimony the former director prepared for Congress ahead of a hearing Thursday.
As per Comey’s statement for the record, on Jan. 6, the intelligence community (IC) met with then President-elect Donald Trump to brief him on the Russian efforts to influence the election.
Included in the briefing was what Comey described as the “salacious and unverified” dossier.
Comey elaborated that the IC knew that the release of the dossier to the public was “imminent” and should not keep the knowledge of its material or pending release from the President-elect. The IC agreed that Comey should brief the President-elect alone to “minimize potential embarrassment.”
We all know how that turned out.
The 35-page dossier was summarized in a two-page synopsis in an annex to a top secret report that was partially declassified and released on Jan. 6. The synopsis was so highly “sensitive” that it was not an official part of the classified report itself and circulated only amongst the highest levels of government including President Barack Obama, the president-elect, and the eight congressional leaders.
Word of a dossier had begun to spread as early as July 2016, when a Republican political operative was contacted by an investigative reporter from a “major news network” to inquire what he knew. By early fall, some of the memos were given to the FBI.
None of the allegations included in the dossier that the Russians were “cultivating, supporting and assisting” the Trump campaign, or the more salacious allegations, were able to be verified by a single journalist, news organization, or by the IC in the six months leading up to its release.
On Jan. 10, Buzzfeed released the document, reiterating that it cannot be verified. CNN reported on the dossier, with a headline that the intelligence community “presented Trump with claims” that the Russians were trying to “compromise” him. Both reported on the existence of the memos, with Buzzfeed mentioning the “potentially unverifiable allegations” of graphic “sexual acts” alleged by the Russians.
A New York Times report notes that “remarkably” none of the competing news outlets in possession of the “damning” memos prior to the briefing released them because the contents could not be confirmed – that “changed” after the IC included the memos to the report on the Russian cyberattack on the election.
The question seldom asked, let alone answered, is why would the IC append a summary of a dossier, that the media already had possession of, to a top-secret document and label it “sensitive” as part of a highly publicized intelligence briefing?
Reporting on their existence makes little sense without any way to confirm the allegations made in the dossier.The establishment media, hostile to the president-elect, was champing at the bit to release the dossier, and the IC briefing was all the verification needed.
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