Citing unnamed U.S. officials, CNN reported on Tuesday afternoon that “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.”
The documents, CNN reports, are based on information gathered by a former British intelligence operative considered to be credible by U.S. officials. While CNN is electing not to disclose the specific contents of the documents at this time, its report notes they “also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.”
CNN reports that congressional leaders were briefed on some of the information by intelligence officials before November’s election. That may have been what then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was referring to when he penned FBI director James Comey a letter shortly before the election accusing him of withholding “explosive” information about Trump’s relationship with Russia.
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Reid wrote. “I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public… and yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”
Both during his campaign and afterward, Trump has avoided criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin — the leader of a country where opposition leaders have been killed under mysterious circumstances, and which is currently under U.S. sanctions following its illegal annexation of the Crimea in 2014. Trump has instead characterized Putin as “highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
During a presidential forum broadcast on NBC in September, Trump said that if Putin “says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him” and commended Putin’s high approval ratings in Russia.
CNN reports that some of the information shared with Trump and Obama last week was “first reported publicly in Mother Jones one week before the election.” The Mother Jones report, citing the contents of a memo written by a former Western intelligence officer, said “Russian intelligence had ‘compromised’ Trump during his visits to Moscow and could ‘blackmail him.’”
The U.S. intelligence community’s consensus view is the Russian-backed hackers used cyberattacks against Democratic targets in an effort to manipulate the election results in Trump’s favor. But instead of vowing to take the intelligence community’s judgment seriously, Trump has denigrated intelligence officials as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
On January 7 — the day after he was reportedly briefed about the compromising information — Trump tweeted, “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad!”
Trump also downplayed the classified briefing, tweeting that “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence hacking affected the election results” — in fact, the declassified intelligence report released publicly made no such judgement — and added that the “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”
In a statement released Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) urged Comey to declassify whatever information the FBI has about Trump’s relationship with Russia before he’s sworn in on January 20.
“There is extensive press reporting on relationships between the Russians and individuals associated with both the Trump campaign and the incoming administration. Director Comey, has the FBI investigated these reported relationships and, if so what are its findings?” Wyden asks in the statement. “I think the American people have a right to know this. If there is delay in declassifying this information and release it to the American people before January 20th, I’m not sure it’s going to happen.”