The CIA and the FBI would not have briefed the president and the president-elect on claims that Russia has compromising information on Donald Trump if they did not take the allegations seriously, said former CIA operatives and analysts who spoke to Business Insider.
“Most of the information that passes across the CIA’s desk throughout the day ends up on the cutting-room floor because it’s not deemed to be credible or relevant,” said Evan McMullin, a former CIA operations officer who ran as an independent during the 2016 presidential election.
McMullin, who served as a chief policy director for the House Republican Conference and a senior adviser on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, entered the presidential race as a conservative alternative to Trump and has remained harshly critical of the president-elect.
“The agency only brings information to the president or president-elect that they believe is highly relevant and that has some level of credibility,” McMullin told Business Insider in an interview on Wednesday. “So they knew the information they had was relevant.”
Classified briefing materials provided to President Barack Obama and Trump by US intelligence officials last week indicated that Russian operatives claimed to have potentially compromising personal and financial information on Trump, CNN reported Tuesday.
US intelligence officials gleaned the information from a former British intelligence operative, identified by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday as Christopher Steele, who reports said provided the FBI with a series of memos in August 2016 detailing how Russia has tried to cultivate Trump for at least five years.
The information contained in Steele’s dossier began circulating among journalists and government officials as early as the summer of 2015. Intelligence officials only presented Trump with a two-page summary of the dossier, CNN reported.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said in a statement on Wednesday that he obtained a copy of the dossier late last year and handed it over to the FBI to be evaluated. A spokesman for former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Reid had reviewed the document before he wrote an open letter to FBI Director James Comey in October calling on him to release the “explosive information” he possesses about the “close ties and coordination” between Trump and Russia.
McMullin, who says he has known about certain details contained in the dossier since last July, said the intelligence community likely didn’t brief Obama or Trump about it until after the election because they needed time to vet the information.
Once the officials reviewed it, however, they could have concluded that it was more consequential than the thousands of reports and rumours they catch wind of every day.
“The vast majority of the information the CIA gets on a daily basis never makes it to a briefing for the president or the president-elect,” McMullin said.
Glenn Carle, who served 23 years in the CIA as the deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said that he, too, has “known of this information for over a year.”
“The intel community is not in the business of reporting vague rumours,” Carle, an associate fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, told Business Insider on Wednesday.
“I know that the CIA and the FBI have been intensively investigating this information for over a year, and perhaps years,” added Carle, the author of the book “The Interrogator.”
“I know that they considered it, in its aggregate, so serious — meaning plausible, but perhaps unproven — that they briefed only the top eight officials in the US government, known as the gang of eight. It was considered that sensitive.”
Another former CIA officer, who requested anonymity to discuss the dossier, agreed that the CIA and the FBI do not brief the president or the president-elect about non-vetted rumours.
Carle went further, noting that the president, the president-elect, and the gang of eight are only briefed on intelligence that the intelligence community considers to be of “grave national concern.”
‘The most irresistible intelligence target’
Some of the details contained in the dossier were scrutinised in reporting done throughout the presidential campaign.
For example, the dossier’s claim that former Trump advisers Carter Page and Paul Manafort “managed” the campaign’s cooperation with the Kremlin has not been independently verified. The FBI looked into both Page and Manafort, however, last year for their respective ties to Russian officials.
Page’s extensive business ties to state-owned Russian companies, stemming from his time as an investment banker in Moscow in the early 2000s, were investigated by the FBI last summer. Months later, the bureau reportedly opened an investigation into Manafort’s ties to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.
Manafort served as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine between 2004 and 2012.
Secret ledgers uncovered by an anticorruption center in Kiev revealed that the political party earmarked $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to Manafort for his work between 2007 and 2012.
Additionally, the dossier claims that Trump — in return for Russia’s feeding the documents it hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to WikiLeaks for publishing — “agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.”
That claim has not been independently verified, either. But ahead of the Republican National Convention in July, the Trump campaign, then led by Manafort, gutted the GOP’s policy platform on Ukraine, which called for increasing sanctions on Russia and arming the Ukrainian military against pro-Russian separatists.
Trump’s staffers, The Washington Post reported at the time, “stripped” the policy calling for the US to provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army and replaced it with softer language calling for “appropriate assistance.”
The dossier contains several factual inaccuracies, however, including a claim that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, met secretly with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016.
Cohen denied ever having visited Prague. A US government source told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that a different Michael Cohen, not Trump’s lawyer, was in Prague in August and September 2016.
The existence of videos of Trump performing sexual acts in Moscow hotel rooms, which the dossier claims are being used by the Kremlin to blackmail Trump, has also not been substantiated. Trump appeared to dismiss those claims during a press conference Wednesday when he mentioned that he was a “germaphobe.”
“Did anyone really believe that story?” he said.
Carle, the former CIA counterterrorism official, said that if he were a Russian intelligence officer he would consider Trump “the most irresistible intelligence target that one could conceivably imagine.”
“If I’m a foreign intelligence officer,” he said. “It’s my duty to exploit this guy.”
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