It all started with an extraordinary report from CNN on Tuesday evening.
The report said American intelligence officials had briefed U.S. President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump about a secret dossier containing unverified but “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump.
It spread like wildfire, but was about to explode.
About one hour after CNN published their article, BuzzFeed took the controversial decision to publish the cache of documents, in their entirety, online.
The tsunami of information, allegations, explanations, defences and, of course, jokes was a lot to follow.
Below is a breakdown of what’s going on. But first, the most important thing to note about the documents is the claims made within are largely unverified.
If the information within the documents is true, it means Russia – whose government has been openly hostile to the United States – can blackmail the man becoming president in nine days.
Trump, his attorney and former campaign manager have denied all allegations in the leaked memos. The Kremlin has also denied the documents’ legitimacy.
Still, Trump has made fervent efforts to discredit U.S. intelligence claims that Russia, at President Vladimir Putin’s direction, influenced the election outcome through hacks and leaked information.
The documents are not intelligence documents (though American intelligence agencies have become involved). Rather, the file contains memos, written over several months, containing salacious and graphic information regarding Trump, as well as material purporting deep ties between the Kremlin and president-elect.
The memos were obtained primarily from Russian sources, according to CNN, and the FBI is still investigating their veracity.
The memo file is reported by a number of outlets including The Guardian and New York Times to have originated with a retired British intelligence operative who was posted in Russia during the 1990s. CNN reported the source, who now operated a private intelligence firm, is considered reliable within the U.S. intelligence community.
The former spy is said to have collected the intelligence as opposition research – research politicians and parties often conduct to dig up dirt on their rivals.
CNN reported the work was funded first by Republicans opposing Trump’s run for presidential nominee. After he won, Democrats supporting their nominee, Hillary Clinton, picked up the tab, according to sources cited in the CNN report.
This all came to a head this week after CNN reported on the FBI’s summary of the dossier used in the briefing with Obama and Trump.
They contain a whole lot of allegations suited to a number of tastes, from fans of detective novels to those more inclined to pick up the hard-to-reach smut magazines.
There are graphic descriptions of sexual behaviours, described as “perverted sexual acts” at a Moscow hotel, said to be on tape.
There is also less sensational – though equally damaging – information in the memos BuzzFeed posted. There was alleged consistent contact between Trump’s campaign team and Russian operatives – both before and throughout the American campaign – and that both sides traded information.
WATCH: Trump slammed the report regarding his ties to Russia as a “disgrace” formulated by “sick people” while also putting blame for Russian hacking on lax DNC security.
The unverified report alleges Russia “cultivated” Trump for five years, working toward his win at the Republican convention, and that Trump adjusted his campaign platform to accommodate Russian interests.
The videos have been described as “kompromat,” or what Russians call compromising material useful for blackmail.
The New York Times reported one memo quoting an unidentified Russian source who claimed hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails and those of Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta was quid pro quo.
Trump was fully aware, and even supported, the hack in return for pushing Russia’s intervention in Ukraine off the campaign’s agenda, according to the memo.
Well, if Russia has blackmail material on Trump, they likely won’t release it unless he does something that upsets them. Though the U.S. may launch investigations into the material, the information will still be difficult to corroborate.
Trump, his attorney and former campaign manager have denied all allegations in the leaked, unsubstantiated memos. The Kremlin has also denied the documents’ legitimacy.
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