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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

 

Moscow on the Hudson

by Tom Sullivan


Moscow Kremlin and Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge in the late evening. Photo by Andrey Korzun via Wikimedia Commons.

President-elect Donald Trump has a press conference scheduled for 11 a.m. EST today at Trump Tower in New York. Likely, he would rather the world talk about his assets or his "assets," but not his being an asset of Russian intelligence. But his Russian connections made headlines again after CNN broke news last night that President Obama and President-elect Trump were briefed on documents collected by a former MI6 official that detailed efforts by Russia to gather "compromising personal and financial information" about Trump:

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.
David Corn reported on the existence of such documents in October for Mother Jones. CNN reports that the memos "were circulating as far back as last summer." CNN reports that Senator John McCain presented a copy of the memos to FBI Director James Comey on December 9, but that the FBI had received its own copy from the former MI6 agent in August.

In its review of the still-uncorroborated contents, The Guardian reports:
One report, dated June 2016, claims that the Kremlin has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years, with the aim of encouraging “splits and divisions in western alliance”.

It claims that Trump had declined “various sweetener real estate deals offered him in Russia” especially in developments linked to the 2018 World Cup finals but that “he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.”

Most explosively, the report alleges: “FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.” The president-elect has not responded to the allegations.
The allegations were sufficient that the FBI applied to the FISA court over the summer for a warrant to monitor four members of Trump's team. That request was rejected as too broad (a rare event for the FISA court). The Guardian cites an unconfirmed report that the FBI eventually got its warrant in October, but could not confirm that the FBI had initiated a full investigation.

Since the memos contain salacious allegations about a Trump stay in a Moscow hotel, one presumes their release at this time is an attempt by U.S. intelligence officials to neutralize their effect on an incoming Trump administration. Trump himself took the embarrasing allegations seriously enough to tweet last night in all caps: “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”

In just one of the snarky tweets flying around last night riffing on the Moscow hotel section of the documents, David Waldman offered a free headline to New York tabloids:
If politics "is always about perception," Trump has used perception effectively both to his advantage and his opponents' disadvantage in winning the White House. But live by perception, die by perception. Let's see how well he manages being on the receiving end. His angry, all-caps tweet last night suggests not very well.