During the Republican primaries, anti-Trump Republicans’ search for dirt brought them into contact with a former member of MI6, Britain’s secret intelligence service, CNN reported Tuesday.
Currently the proprietor of a private intelligence firm, this man had spent much of the 1990s as a British spy in Russia. Drawing on that experience, the contacts he’d gathered from it, and the funds of Never Trump conservative donors, this spook began drafting a memo on the mogul’s relationships with Russian businesses and political entities. After Trump secured the GOP nomination, donors aligned with Hillary Clinton paid the spy continue his work.
That investment yielded 35 pages of memos (which have now been published by Buzzfeed) and two explosive allegations:
1. Russian operatives claim to be in possession of compromising personal and financial information about America’s president-elect. (The former “information” allegedly includes a videotape of Trump watching several Russian sex workers urinate on the bed the Obamas slept in at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow.)
2. There was a continuous exchange of information between Trump surrogates and “intermediaries for the Russian government” throughout the 2016 campaign. Allegedly, the Russians had been cultivating Trump for five years; he supposedly fed them information about Russian oligarchs in return for information from “moles in the DNC” and Russian hackers. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, his ex-foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and his lawyer Michael Cohen are named as intermediaries. The Guardian reports that the FBI applied for a warrant from the FISA court to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of making contacts with Russian officials. The court rejected the request, saying it was too broad, and it’s unclear if a warrant was ever granted.
Cohen has already denied the report, calling it “fake news” and “absolutely silly stuff” that “reads like a John Le Carre novel.”
Trump responded on Twitter:
One week before the election, David Corn of Mother Jones published a story detailing the existence of these memos and their allegations. But many viewed a single, anonymous private spy as a less-than-credible source and the media quickly moved past the story’s explosive claims.
But the CIA did not. And CNN reports that America’s top intelligence agencies presented Trump with a two-page synopsis of the spy’s memos during his intelligence briefing on Russian hacking last week.
According to the network, these memos have been circulating through the intelligence community since last summer. But more recently, U.S. intelligence agencies completed a review of the British spy’s work and his vast network of contacts, and found them credible enough to present his findings to the president-elect.
None of these claims have been substantiated, and their contingency should be stressed: To believe them, one must not only trust an anonymous foreign spy who was paid to generate unflattering material about Donald Trump, but also believe the claims of Russian intelligence operatives, who may have an incentive to bluff.
Nonetheless, the fact that America’s top intelligence agencies are taking these claims seriously — or, at the very least, want the president-elect to think they are taking them seriously — is big, bizarre news.
Trump’s strange reaction to the intelligence community’s consensus about Russian involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee, which included a blanket disavowal of the CIA, and repeated praise of Vladimir Putin, may betray the truth of the secret memos’ claims.
Or that odd behavior may explain why the CIA would leak dubious intelligence that discredits the president-elect.
Either way, this is a pretty major plot twist, considering we still have ten more days till the end of the prologue.
This post has been updated with new information.