Top U.S. intelligence officials have briefed leaders in Washington about an explosive – but unverified – document that alleges collusion between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump, NPR has learned.
The brief, which NPR has seen but not independently verified, was given by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain to FBI director Jim Comey on Dec. 9. Details from it have been part of presentations by Comey and other intelligence leaders to Trump, President Barack Obama and key leaders in Congress.
On Tuesday night, Trump denied the report in a Twitter post that didn’t even allude to the reports.
“FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” he wrote.
Trump has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday – his first in 166 days, following a quip in which he invited Russia to hack materials related to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
NPR is not detailing the contents of the brief because it remains unverified, but it describes a concerted effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his camp. The document, which describes information provided by Russian government and other sources, details behavior by Trump that could leave him open to blackmail, as well as alleged secret meetings between Trump aides and Russian officials called to discuss the campaign against Clinton and potential new business relationships.
The U.S. intelligence services declined to comment on Tuesday evening. Members of Congress on the intelligence and armed services committees also declined to comment.
The timing of the appearance of the dossier is telling – following a Senate Intelligence Committee about Russia’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and ahead of Trump’s planned press conference. Democrats on Tuesday urged the FBI to reveal whether its conducting any investigation into the Trump camp’s connections to Russia, but Comey rebuffed them.
Separately, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken pressed Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to become attorney general, about what he knew of Trump’s dealings with Russia. Sessions said he wasn’t aware of any activities and couldn’t respond.
The appearance of the dossier, which does not appear to have been generated by an American intelligence agency as it does not contain its standard caveats or guidance about levels of “confidence,” is another twist in the sometimes surreal story about Trump’s historic political success. Senators and intelligence leaders on Tuesday described the dangers of foreign mischief in the political systems of the U.S. and its allies, and the Trump-Kremlin dossier is a quintessential example.
If it’s genuine, it tops what Director of National Intelligence Jim Comey and other top intelligence bosses called an unprecedented spike in Russian meddling inside the U.S. If it’s phony, or parts of it are fabricated, it’s yet another turn in the hall of mirrors in which American voters have found themselves since Trump exploded onto the political scene.
Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was forced to resign after information became public about his ties to pro-Kremlin leaders in Ukraine, which Putin invaded in 2014. Russian foreign ministry officials boasted in the press about their contacts with Trump’s camp. Putin sent Trump a telegram after his election congratulating him on his win and reciprocating the overtures he’d made about healing the relationship between the two nations.