On Tuesday, CNN reported that President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed by the intelligence community on memos alleging there was communication between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
CNN suggested the existence of highly-compromising material targeting Trump which was compiled by a former British intelligence officer.
CNN, which was referred to as the Clinton News Network during the 2016 election, wrote (emphasis ours):
CNN has reviewed a 35-page compilation of the memos, from which the two-page synopsis was drawn. The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos
The cable news network noted that while the former British intelligence officer’s work is credible, the specific allegations presented in the document have produced inconsistencies and have yet to be confirmed.
Among the unverifiable claims, President-elect Trump is accused of participating in extremely graphic sexual fetishism in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton.
While CNN did not publish the report, BuzzFeed did, knowing full well that the unverified memos would off a media frenzy of unsubstantiated rumors:
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 11, 2017
Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, explained the decision to publish the unsubstantiated claims: “Americans can make up their own minds.”
CNN wrote, “These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats.”
Both Mother Jones and Newsweek published similar reports over the course of the election, suggesting a British intelligence officer, who specialized in Russian counterintelligence, had produced the report. However, it was BuzzFeed that took the dive and opted to publish the memo on Tuesday.
Left-wing Mother Jones’s Washington Bureau Chief David Corn noted that he did not even publish the full memos due to the uncertainty of their validity:
1. For those asking, I didn't publish the full memos from the intelligence operative because I could not confirm the allegations.
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 11, 2017
3. I accurately characterized the memos-this is important stuff-but didn't publish details. Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 11, 2017
Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic echoed his sentiment:
This report contains unverified information, sourced to anonymous figures whose existence has not been proven.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) January 11, 2017
In response to the allegations, Trump tweeted that the BuzzFeed story was “fake news” and “a total political witch hunt.”
FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
The report also alleges that Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney and legal counsel, was central to “the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership” and that he met secretly with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016.
However, Cohen has vehemently denied these allegations and noted that he has never been to Prague in his life:
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) January 11, 2017
The Atlantic‘s Rosie Gray reported that Cohen was with his son, visiting the University of Southern California (USC) and meeting with the school’s baseball coach during that time.
Michael Cohen says he was visiting USC with his son in Aug & only trip to Europe this summer was to Italy in July https://t.co/3MOKfc7kNO
— Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) January 11, 2017
Gray previously worked for BuzzFeed.
“I’m telling you emphatically that I’ve not been to Prague, I’ve never been to Czech [Republic], I’ve not been to Russia,” Cohen told The Atlantic. “The story is completely inaccurate, it is fake news meant to malign Mr. Trump.”
Other websites had also reportedly been pitched with the memos but decided against running with them:
"Characteristically ferocious" is what Buzzfeed calls being the website to run oppo that was pitched to every other site for 6 months. https://t.co/PSQUOYWFts
— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) January 11, 2017
The timing of the questionable BuzzFeed and CNN reports is notable, considering Trump is holding his first-ever press conference as president-elect on Wednesday in New York, and it is more than likely the Democrats and his Republican nemeses will almost certainly ask him questions about the baseless claims in the memos.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz.