In yet another extraordinary development, on Wednesday night Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement on an unverified dossier that outlines Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. BuzzFeed published the 35-page document on Tuesday after CNN reported that Clapper and other intelligence chiefs gave the president-elect a two-page summary of the memos when they briefed him last week.
In the statement, Clapper says that he spoke with Trump again on Wednesday evening, and expressed his “profound dismay” that leaks about the meeting have been appearing in the press. “We both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security,” he said.
Clapper then addressed the dossier itself:
We also discussed the private security company document, which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. Intelligence Community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the intelligence chiefs concluded they had no choice but to include the dossier in the briefing prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump. Many journalists and lawmakers had seen the document, and they thought Trump and Obama should know that the intelligence agencies were aware of the allegations. They also believed it was only a matter of time before the claims were made public (just before the election Mother Jones reported on the dossier’s existence, but did not go into detail).
The Post reports that Clapper, CIA director John Brennan, FBI chief James Comey, and NSA director Mike Rogers were unanimous in their decision to include a two-page summary of the dossier in an annex to a much larger report on Russia’s alleged election meddling. A U.S. official told the paper the summary “was fully explained” to Trump and “put into context,” to make it clear that the government did not compile the dossier or verify its claims.
Former U.S. intelligence officials told the Post that including “opposition research” in a presidential briefing is very unusual. “It would be extraordinary if not unprecedented to bring to the attention of a president and president-elect a private document for which you had no reason to believe the allegations made in it,” said Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA.
Journalists held off on publishing the allegations contained in the memo because they weren’t able to confirm the explosive claims about Trump and Russia. Ironically, they only emerged this week after CNN reported that the intelligence chiefs thought the dossier was worth mentioning to Obama and Trump.