A newly declassified document reveals FBI officials circulated sensational claims that President Trump “worked with” Russia in 2016 and that his campaign was offered “financial compensation” to drop US sanctions, but didn’t disclose that the claims came from an opposition researcher for the Democrats.
The claims were made by former British spy Christopher Steele and detailed by the FBI in a classified annex to an intelligence community assessment on Russia’s role in the 2016 election. CBS News first reported Thursday that the document was partially declassified by intelligence director John Ratcliffe.
Steele was paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to find dirt on Trump. He leaned on a network of sources to compile a dossier of allegations including unverified rumors.
An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller later found no evidence that Trump colluded with Russia including on the distribution of hacked Democratic emails.
Steele’s work and the FBI’s role in investigating Trump remains a subject of intrigue in Washington, with Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans now investigating the FBI’s work, including its use of Steele’s information to acquire surveillance court orders against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, despite widely held doubts about the information’s accuracy.
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Trump alleges he was the victim of a “hoax” intended to undermine his presidency.
The two-page FBI annex to the intelligence community’s assessment on Russia goes beyond the Steele dossier’s claims.
The now-declassified FBI annex says, referring to Steele: “The most politically sensitive claims by the FBI source alleged a close relationship between the President-elect and the Kremlin. The source claimed that the President-elect and his top campaign advisers knowingly worked with Russian officials to bolster his chances of beating Secretary Clinton; were fully knowledgeable of Russia’s direction of leaked Democratic emails; and were offered financial compensation from Moscow.”
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Later, the annex elaborates: “The FBI source claimed that secret meetings between the Kremlin and the President-elect’s team were handled by some of the President-elect’s advisers, at least one of whom was allegedly offered financial remuneration for a policy change lifting sanctions on Russia.”
The FBI says in the document that Steele was paid for his research by “private clients” — revealed in late 2017 to be Clinton and the DNC.
Though the document was secret until this week, federal officials with security clearances and members of Congress, including House Intelligence Committee Democrats who accused Trump of collusion, can access classified records in secure settings.
It’s unclear if Trump was aware of the extent of Steele’s allegations against him — or that the Clinton campaign commissioned Steele’s work — when he was briefed by then-FBI Director James Comey in January 2017.
According to a memo written by Comey, he told Trump that “the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013.” Trump laughed off the claim, according to Comey’s memo.
Officials briefed both Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama in early January 2017 on Steele’s claim that Russia had compromising information on Trump. CNN then reported on the briefings, and later Buzzfeed published the dossier, saying it had become newsworthy.
The newly declassified document includes a disclaimer that “we only have limited corroboration of the source’s reporting in this case.”
It also says: “The FBI source claimed that the Kremlin had cultivated the President-elect for at least five years; had fed him and his team intelligence about Secretary Clinton and other opponents for years, and agreed to use WikiLeaks in return for policy concessions by the President-elect — assuming he won the election — on NATO and Ukraine.”
Representatives for Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, whose office assembled the assessment, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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