President-elect Donald Trump, left, accompanied by Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, and Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a senior adviser to Trump, center, speaks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
With the release of a memo outlining various unsubstantiated allegations about president-elect Trump’s ties to the Kremlin, calls for a cautious reading of the leak have abounded. And for good reason: if some of the facts relayed by unnamed sources to an also-unnamed ex-British intelligence officer are true, they could be treasonous, impeachable even, according to former NSA legal counsel Susan Hennessey.
Amongst the claims from those uncorroborated sources are alleged collusion between Trump surrogates and Russian intermediaries around the infamous hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), believed by the U.S. to have been ordered by Putin’s regime. Perhaps more serious, they claimed Trump had been susceptible to blackmail, even though he turned down bribes to establish property deals around the Fifa 2018 World Cup to be hosted by Russia.
What’s apparent is that whilst the claims require serious fact checking, they were serious enough for law enforcement to present the information not only to Trump, but to outgoing President Obama too. As reported by CNN and the Guardian, amongst others, the British intelligence officer had provided considerable reliable evidence before.
“The intelligence community does not take mere innuendo to the President of the United States. So that is a strong indication that these allegations should be taken seriously,” Hennessey said. “If there was any evidence that the Trump campaign actively colluded with Russia and committed crimes, that would be the most shocking political scandal in American history.
“It would be a betrayal not only of the American people, but of basic democratic values. If sufficient evidence emerges that the FBI has substantiated the allegations or is preparing criminal indictments, then even hardline Republicans in Congress will likely call for Governor Pence to take the oath of office.”
Buzzfeed chose to publish the entire document online, which included more salacious claims about Trump’s trips to Moscow as Russia collected kompromat (comprommising material) on the billionaire, and the claim that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” the president-elect for five years. The file also reported allegations Trump’s campaign team, led by Paul Manafort, supported Russia’s leak of DNC emails to Wikileaks and that in return they would “sideline” Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as an issue in the run up to the 2016 election.
At the same time, however, that the unverified claims metastasized so fast it across major publications has given Trump another chance to lambast media with what’s become one of his many refrains: that news outlets lie. The research was also commissioned private sector firm hired to carry out opposition research, presenting further problems with verifying the report.
Indeed, Trump’s response to the revelations was blunt, claiming a witch hunt was underway.
FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen also used Twitter to deny allegations that he visited Prague to meet with Kremlin officials in August 2016 to discuss matters around Manafort’s supposed ties to the pro-Russian former Ukrainian prime minister Yanukovych.
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) January 11, 2017
Yesterday, senators called on the FBI to reveal if it was investigating relationships between Trump’s team and Russian officials. Senator Ron Wyden asked James Comey to explain during an intelligence committee briefing, but the latter declined, saying he could not comment on any investigations, whether they existed or not. “I think the American people have a right to know this. If there is delay in declassifying this information and releasing it to the American people before January 20th, I’m not sure it’s going to happen,” Wyden warned.
The Guardian revealed the FBI has at least tried to investigate Trump ties to Russia, citing sources who said the agency had asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for warrants to monitor communications of four members of the president-elect’s team. Whilst those applications were turned down, another report indicated one was granted in October, though that also remains unconfirmed.
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