Senior U.S. intelligence officials presented classified documents to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump alleging that Russia holds compromising personal and financial information on Trump, CNN and Buzzfeed reported Tuesday.
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Trump took to Twitter to reject the report, saying it was "fake news" and part of a "political witch hunt" against him.
The report was based on "multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings" given to Obama and Trump last week on Russia's interference in the U.S. elections. Two U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters said the claims, which one called "still unsubstantiated," were contained in a two-page memo appended to a report on Russian interference in the election.
According to the report, the FBI is investigating the accuracy of these new allegations, which reportedly came primarily from Russian sources through a former British intelligence officer.
The information was presented to Trump last week by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI chief James Comey, CIA director John Brennan, and NSA director Admiral Mike Rogers.
CNN mentioned in its report that some of the information which led the U.S. intelligence chiefs to brief Trump and Obama on this issue was gathered by a former British intelligence official, who now runs a private intelligence firm. The former British official was initially hired to investigate Trump's connections to Russia by some of the President-elect's rivals within the Republican Party in the months leading up to the party's presidential nomination.
The report failed to specify what exactly the nature of the compromising information allegedly held by Russia was. However, less than an hour after the CNN report, Buzzfeed News published a 35-page dossier which it said was basis for the briefing.
The document summarized the former British intelligence official's work and contains many unverified allegations, ranging from collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the election campaign, to claims of an embarrassing sex tape of the president-elect which is reportedly in the hands of Putin's intelligence services.
While the source behind this dossier is reportedly considered trustworthy by many within the American intelligence community, the veracity of the allegations themselves are unclear, and the vast majority of the information in the dossier is based on unnamed sources.
Journalist David Corn, who reported in Mother Jones magazine a week before the election that a credible source provided information to the FBI about direct Russian cooperation with the Trump campaign, tweeted on Tuesday evening that he had seen the dossier back in October, but chose not to publish it in full: "For those asking, I didn't publish the full memos from the intelligence operative because I could not confirm the allegations. I believed it was fair and responsible to note that a credible source had provided FBI allegations of Moscow op to co-opt Trump."
Earlier on Tuesday, hours before the CNN report was published, the FBI's Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and was asked about any ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the elections. “I would never comment on investigations – whether we have one or not – in an open forum like this, so I really can’t answer one way or another," Comey replied. Senator Angus King, an independent from the state of Maine who regularly caucuses with the Democratic party, commented on “the irony of your making that statement here – I cannot avoid,” hinting at Comey's public announcements during last elections on the FBI's investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails.
In October, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to FBI chief Comey that his agency was in possession of "explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government," but that unlike the information regarding Hillary Clinton's email investigation, the details regarding Trump and Russia were not reported by the agency to the general public.
In the weeks since his victory in November, Trump has publicly feuded with the U.S. intelligence community over reports on Russia's interference in the election. His transition team even mocked the intelligence community as "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."
Trump later claimed that he in fact was "a big fan" of the U.S. intelligence, and eventually also acknowledged in public that Russia did in fact interfere in the elections on his behalf. However, just last week the president-elect hinted on his Twitter account that perhaps the conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence community on this issue were wrong, and quoted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's denials that Russia assisted his organization.
Trump's nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, a retired general, said at his first nomination hearing before the Senate on Tuesday that he had "high confidence" in the intelligence reports on Russia's meddling in the elections.
Trump is scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday morning in New York, the first since July when Trump encouraged Russia to "find" the missing emails on Hillary Clinton's private server. After the request created a political backlash, Trump claimed he was being sarcastic. The upcoming press conference was expected to focus on Trump's recent appointments, including his decision to recruit his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser, but will now likely be shift back to Russia.