USA Foreign Policy

Is the FBI taking the Russian dossier about Trump more seriously?

The dossier remains mostly unverified, but sources say that certain details in the document, compiled by a former British spy, have been corroborated.

In this February 2016 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stands in front of his airplane as he speaks during a rally in Bentonville, Ark.
John Bazemore/AP/File
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A 35-page dossier about President Trump that the White House dismisses as fiction may be gaining credibility with US investigators, according to sources close to the matter. The dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, contains allegations of serious misconduct by Mr. Trump and his campaign before his election. 

When Buzzfeed published it in January, many assumed that the dossier, which contained allegations of cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as a hoax, particularly in light of the document's many salacious details and factual errors. Nevertheless, the dossier was evidently serious enough for then-President Barack Obama and Trump to be briefed on its existence before Trump's January 20 inauguration.

While the FBI-led investigation into the dossier is ongoing, some sources have indicated that it gaining legitimacy in light of certain details that have been newly corroborated by investigators. The news could bolster many Trump critics who question the president's ethics in regard to his business ties as well as his controversial policies, such as the recent travel ban against visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

On Saturday, anonymous sources told CBS News that law enforcement officials had begun to take the dossier more seriously as the investigation continues, even among some of the more skeptical law enforcement officials involved with the investigation. The day before, CNN released a report that said "multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials" had corroborated some of the communications associated with the dossier.

According to CNN, the corroboration relates to certain conversations between Russian officials and other Russian individuals described in the dossier. Investigators found that at least some of these conversations actually took place "on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier." The content of these conversations, however, may not have actually contained any reference to Trump.

One of the officials stressed to CNN that "the more salacious things" alleged in the dossier had not been corroborated.

Since first coming to the public's attention last month, the dossier has been the subject of considerable debate over its veracity. One of the biggest allegations contained within the dossier is that the Russian government has compromising information on Trump, a claim consonant with allegations thsat Russia interfered with the US presidential election and Trump's frequent praise of Russian president Vladimir Putin. But such an extraordinary allegation would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove, as the Christian Science Monitor's Fred Weir previously reported:

Any long-term Russia observer knows that it's possible to pick up all sorts of sensational political gossip – often delivered by Russian friends and contacts in tones of certainty – that ultimately seldom pans out. The controversial dossier, whose provenance is described at length in a New York Times article, was possibly harvested from Moscow's notorious rumor grapevine, analysts say.

....

The memos contain several amateurish errors, says Andrei Soldatov, author of "The New Nobility," which traces the KGB's rise to power in Russia, and one of the country's top experts on the security services. "For instance, it confuses Department K of the FSB with Department K of the Interior Ministry," he says.

"But mainly I have problems with the analysis," he adds. "As with any classic conspiracy theory, all Putin's moves are made to seem connected with the US election 'operation,' such as the firing of top personnel. In fact, Putin had lots of reasons for changing his team last year."

But despite the problems with the dossier, the briefing given to Mr. Obama and Trump before the inauguration would seem to give it more weight than a typical rumor. And if the recent CNN and CBS reports are true, it may be that there is more truth to the dossier than some initially gave it credit for, though it should be noted that a few specific facts and claims listed in the document have already been proven to be incorrect.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, however, insisted that the entire dossier was untrue, and attacked the recent CNN report as false.

"This is more fake news," Mr. Spicer told CNN. "It is about time CNN focused on the success the President has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation, and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The President won the election because of his vision and message for the nation."

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