By ROBERT ROMANO
It is hard to know what to make of the latest dump of information related to Russia and President-elect Donald Trump: A months-old dossier originally produced as political opposition research first by the GOP and then the Democrats after the primary, of unproven, salacious charges that had President-elect Donald Trump essentially acting as an agent of Moscow and that the Kremlin had leverage against him that would enable blackmail.
That, in short, Trump was a Manchurian Candidate.
This dossier filtered into the intelligence community and then was made a part of the classified briefing delivered to the President and President-elect of Russia’s supposed actions to influence the elections.
As CNN infamously reported on Jan. 10, “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 U.S. 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 U.S. intelligence officials consider credible.”
The report added, “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.”
Those memos were then published by Buzzfeed, and were immediately found to contain multiple false allegations, including that Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague to meet with Russian agents and even that Trump had even gathered intelligence on behalf of Russia.
Trump was understandably quick to dismiss CNN at his Jan. 11 press conference, calling the outlet “fake news” but let’s give CNN its due here. This dossier’s presence in the classified briefing, according to CNN, was confirmed by “multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings…”
Multiple officials who, presumably, should have known the memos were utter trash, but who instead appeared to be taking them quite seriously. According to CNN, a high-level administration official said, “I have a sense the outgoing administration and intelligence community is setting down the pieces so this must be investigated seriously and run down. I think [the] concern was to be sure that whatever information was out there is put into the system so it is evaluated as it should be and acted upon as necessary.”
Sure sounded pretty serious! I’m sure it sounded serious to the CNN reporters credited to the story, Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs.
But, hold on to your hats. After Buzzfeed dropped the now discredited dossier bombshell on the Internet, NBC quickly reported that the only reason it was ever included was as an example of disinformation, just in case it was needed: “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.'”
Okay, maybe, but then again, maybe not.
If the FBI was still investigating the findings — which the agency has had for some time now — then, how and when did intelligence officials suddenly decide it was suddenly “disinformation” that needed to be publicly disavowed after it was included in a section in the classified briefing? Before or after Buzzfeed published it?
Because it seems the only reason the dossier is now being disavowed is because Buzzfeed published it and there were numerous verifiably false claims in it. It’s the only reason the nation is now having this conversation.
Here’s a good question, considering what we are now learning: Why the hell was the intelligence community and the FBI investigating Trump as a potential foreign agent?
This was an unbelievable abuse of power by Obama in an election year against the opposition party’s nominee for president that was used as a political talking point by the Hillary Clinton campaign. The FBI even approached the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to begin surveillance of top Trump campaign officials suspected of contacting Russian agents but the court reportedly told the agency to narrow the search. No word if they ever succeeded in getting the warrant, but CNN’s report of the FBI investigation should be taken very seriously.
For those who might draw equivalency to the FBI investigating Clinton’s private email server that contained classified information, the difference could not be more evident. Whereas Clinton’s server should not have even existed since government officials are compelled to use secure government email accounts, and did indeed contain classified information, nothing at all about the Trump memos has been corroborated.
Now the Russia theme is forming the basis for the opposition to Trump and, who knows, maybe his impeachment — after all, being labeled a foreign agent by the intelligence community probably qualifies as an impeachable offense for many members of Congress, with the added bonus that it need not be proven.
Or in the least, the moves could be designed to box Trump in so that the national security state can dictate policy to Trump on Syria, Ukraine and other hot spots that Russia has a stake in. Already, Trump nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called not sending arms to Ukraine an act of weakness by the Obama administration. Is all the Russia talk getting to top Trump officials that now they feel a political need to act tougher in the face of Moscow? If so, then it might be having its desired effect. I seem to have missed the part of the debate where Trump called for escalating the war in Ukraine, which shares a border with Russia.
Either way, this is looking a whole lot like a setup.
Here’s another question: What if Buzzfeed hadn’t published the dossier?
Would intelligence officials still have been stepping forward to say it was simply intended to “draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted ‘disinformation'” as NBC News reported?
Or would Obama administration officials have continued teasing it out, letting the CNN report stand unchallenged, and leading to calls in Congress for more delusional inquiries, feigning authenticity for what is turning out to be a very dubious case against Russia and against Trump?
This was the same dossier that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who chaired the Jan. 6 hearing into Russia’s supposed attack that he pressed intelligence officials to label “an act of war” — thought was so credible that he personally handed it to FBI director James Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 after receiving it from a British Ambassador, demanding an investigation. It was McCain who also pushed for a select committee because of this dossier but was turned back by Senate leadership.
This was the same dossier that compelled former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid(D-Nev.) to pen an Aug. 29 letter to Comey, urging an immediate investigation into Trump, stating, “The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount and has led Michael Morrell, the forming Acting Central Intelligence Director, to call Trump an ‘unwitting agent’ of Russia and the Kremlin.”
“The American people deserve to have a full understanding of the facts from a completed investigation before they vote this November,” Reid added.
It might have even been the same dossier that inspired several electors of the Electoral College to write a Dec. 12 letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper, demanding that “The Electors require to know from the intelligence community whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election.”
Who knows? Perhaps it was even teased in the unclassified version of the memo dated Jan. 6, which stated that “Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.”
During the recent Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Jan. 5, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper declared, “We stand actually more resolutely on the strength of that statement that we made on the 7th of October” that Russia was attempting to influence the election.
All of which raises a key question: Was this dossier, teased by CNN and then published by Buzzfeed included in the “further information” that increased the intelligence community’s confidence in its reporting about Russia and the election in its Jan. 6 assessment? Was this what caused Clapper to stand more resolutely on the strength of that assessment?
McCain was reported to have given Comey the dossier on Dec. 9, which was after the election. Of course, there’s no way of knowing what the assessment was referring to as “further information” boosting its confidence, since the intelligence community and the Obama administration have refused steadfastly to include any evidence to support any of their claims against Russia and now, Trump.
But if there’s to be an investigation, perhaps it should be into how this crappy memo would ever be briefed to the President of the United States and then partially leaked out by the Obama administration to CNN to portray Trump as a Russian asset.
Thank goodness Buzzfeed published the dossier. If this is what passes for “intelligence” in Washington, D.C. and so many of Congress’ top brass could be so easily fooled for months on end, then perhaps now it should be clear that our leaders lack any.
One of the puzzles of this whole evidence-free Russia hacked the election to help Trump allegation has been why the intelligence community in December suddenly starting treating Trump like he was some sort of foreign agent acting on behalf of the Kremlin?
Perhaps it was because the intelligence community was relying on information that was completely fabricated and really believed it. Or, because the Obama administration settled on a post-election strategy to discredit and destroy Trump as a Russian agent and to decapitate the incoming administration.
The Obama administration has expertly timed the release of all this information, politicizing the nation’s intelligence community in what may be its largest scandal ever, first to influence the election and now to delegitimize Trump — which all blew up when Buzzfeed, unauthorized, unexpectedly published some of the administration’s supposed “evidence.” Everyone should be asking: What if Buzzfeed hadn’t published it?
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.
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