Yesterday, BuzzFeed released a 35-page “dossier” of unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable claims about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. We know today that this “dossier” was shopped left-right-and-center during the campaign and no news outlet ran with it. Not because they were afraid of hurting Trump but because the substantiating the claims in the “dossier” is a lot like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall. There are snippets of truth. There are conversations that can’t be verified. Those things that should be verifiable have not been able to be verified. Why BuzzFeed chose to release it the night before Trump’s press conference is probably best explained by Joe Cunningham.
Into this mix is thrown a CNN story:
Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.
The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
The two page synopsis is not, as Jake Tapper is pointing out, related to the BuzzFeed report at all. This is being hailed on the left as a gamechanger:
Trump's game is to use Buzzfeed memo to ignore blockbuster CNN report.
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) January 11, 2017
But is Tapper’s report any better that BuzzFeed’s? It is certainly less salacious but NBC is disputing it in every particular
This whole Trump-Russia scandal is now a complete s***show. NBC News debunks CNN report; BuzzFeed report ridiculous. https://t.co/00PUwKepo9
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) January 11, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump was not told about unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him during last week’s intelligence briefing, according to a senior intelligence official with knowledge of preparations for the briefing.
A summary of the unverified reports was prepared as background material for the briefing, but not discussed during the meeting, the official said.
Two U.S. officials told NBC News that materials prepared for Trump during last week’s intelligence briefing included damaging allegations — unverified by American intelligence agencies — about his dealings with the Russians.
Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were left with the Trump team in New York. During the briefing, the president-elect was not briefed on the contents of the summary .
“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.
According to the senior official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”
The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not orally shared with Trump.
Assuming that NBC’s anonymous source is more reliable that CNN’s reliable source, it looks like CNN’s story, even though it is not as bad as BuzzFeed’s, gets not only the nature of the material wrong (“none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period”) but they get wrong the purpose of the material and how it was used. While CNN’s reporting may read better than BuzzFeed’s, fake is binary. Either it is or it isn’t. CNN appears to have been substantially wrong and totally misleading. That is rather the definition of fake.