Re­porters un­able to ver­ify Trump-Rus­sia dossier

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION & WORLD - By Scott Shane

How did U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials come to brief Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and law­mak­ers about sup­posed Rus­sian plans to try to black­mail Trump? There are far more ques­tions than an­swers. But here is a look at the story so far.

What we know

>> Last year, a Wash­ing­ton po­lit­i­cal re­search firm, paid by Trump’s Repub­li­can ri­vals, hired a re­tired Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer to in­ves­ti­gate the can­di­date’s ties to Rus­sia.

>> Af­ter it be­came clear that Trump would be the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Demo­cratic clients be­gan to pay the firm for this same “op­po­si­tion re­search,” stan­dard prac­tice in pol­i­tics.

>> The for­mer Bri­tish spy, who had long ex­pe­ri­ence in Rus­sia and a net­work of con­nec­tions there, com­piled dozens of re­ports de­tail­ing what he heard from his con­tacts. The memos he wrote, mostly one to three pages long, are dated from June to De­cem­ber.

>> The memos con­tain un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims that Rus­sian of­fi­cials tried to ob­tain in­flu­ence over Trump by pre­par­ing to black­mail him with sex tapes and bribe him with busi­ness deals. They also claim that the Trump cam­paign met with Rus­sian op­er­a­tives to dis­cuss the Rus­sians’ hack­ing and their leak­ing of emails and doc­u­ments from the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and from Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man, John D. Podesta.

>> The Wash­ing­ton firm and the for­mer Bri­tish spy, not iden­ti­fied here be­cause of a con­fi­den­tial source agree­ment with the New York Times, gave the memos first to their clients but later to the FBI and mul­ti­ple jour­nal­ists at the Times and else­where. The memos, to­tal­ing about 35 pages, also reached a num­ber of mem­bers of Congress.

>> Last week, when the FBI, CIA and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency gave a clas­si­fied re­port on the Rus­sian hack­ing and leak­ing, and ef­forts to in­flu­ence the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to Obama, Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers, they at­tached a two-page sum­mary of the un­ver­i­fied al­le­ga­tions in the memos.

What we don’t know

>> Whether any of the claims in the memos are true. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have not con­firmed them, and Trump has said they are a com­plete fab­ri­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, one spe­cific al­le­ga­tion — that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Co­hen, met with a Rus­sian of­fi­cial in Prague in Au­gust or Septem­ber — has been de­nied by both Co­hen, who says he has never been to Prague, and the Rus­sian, Oleg Solo­dukhin.

>> Who con­cocted the in­for­ma­tion in the memos, if it is en­tirely false or partly so, and with what pur­pose. Did the Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer ac­cu­rately re­port what he heard? Who gave him the in­for­ma­tion that, if false, amounts to a very so­phis­ti­cated fab­ri­ca­tion?

>> What ex­actly prompted U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials to pass on a sum­mary of the un­vet­ted claims to Obama, Trump and Congress. Of­fi­cials have said they felt the pres­i­dent-elect should be aware of the memos, which ———

One spe­cific al­le­ga­tion in the memos — that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Co­hen, met with a Rus­sian of­fi­cial in Prague in Au­gust or Septem­ber — has been de­nied by both Co­hen and the Rus­sian, Oleg Solo­dukhin.

———

had cir­cu­lated widely in Wash­ing­ton. But why put the sum­mary in a re­port go­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple in Congress and the ex­ec­u­tive branch, vir­tu­ally as­sur­ing it would be leaked?

>> What will hap­pen now. The FBI has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing the claims in the memos, and Democrats are de­mand­ing a thor­ough in­quiry into the re­ports that Trump rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with Rus­sian of­fi­cials dur­ing the cam­paign. But as of Jan. 20, Trump will be in charge of the bureau and the other in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and he may not ap­prove such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ques­tion:

Why can’t I read it on the New York Times’ web­site? Be­cause the 35 pages of memos pre­pared as op­po­si­tion re­search on Trump con­tain de­tailed claims that nei­ther the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies nor the

An­swer:

Times has been able to ver­ify, the ed­i­tors de­cided to sum­ma­rize the claims and not pub­lish the doc­u­ment.

Q:

Why did the Times and other out­lets re­port ex­ten­sively on the hack­ing of Demo­cratic Party, but not this?

The Times did re­port be­fore the elec­tion that the FBI was in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims about Trump’s ties to Rus­sia — an ar­ti­cle that re­sulted from an ex­ten­sive re­port­ing ef­fort. The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and Podesta emails were pub­lic, their au­then­tic­ity was not in doubt, and they con­tained news­wor­thy in­for­ma­tion.

A: Q:

Why did the FBI di­rec­tor write two let­ters about Clin­ton’s emails be­fore the elec­tion, but not this? That is a ques­tion James Comey may even­tu­ally have to an­swer. His two pub­lic state­ments about the

A:

bureau’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Clin­ton emails were highly un­usual and broke with long FBI tra­di­tion.

Q:

Why did the news me­dia not raise this dur­ing the cam­paign?

Many re­porters from mul­ti­ple news or­ga­ni­za­tions tried to ver­ify the claims in the memos but were un­suc­cess­ful. That does not mean that none of the claims is true, but most news or­ga­ni­za­tions choose not to pub­lish dam­ag­ing al­le­ga­tions against a pub­lic fig­ure un­less they be­lieve them to be true.

A: Q:

So what changed Tues­day? Why is this now be­ing re­ported?

CNN broke the news that a sum­mary of the memos had been at­tached to the clas­si­fied re­port by the FBI, CIA and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency on the Rus­sian hack­ing and leak­ing dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and that it was given to Obama, Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers last week. That level of of­fi­cial at­ten­tion prompted news me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions to de­cide to in­form the pub­lic about the memos.

A:

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