TEL AVIV — Amid a public relations crisis concerning the network’s Russia coverage, CNN on Tuesday night aired a one-hour special documentary on allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
One section of the special, titled, “The Russian Connection: Inside the Attack on Democracy,” reported on questions raised in the 35-page, largely discredited dossier on President Donald Trump.
The dossier in question was authored by former intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who was reportedly paid by Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to investigate Trump. Last month, Steele conceded in court documents that part of his work still needed to be verified.
“The Russian Connection” special was hosted by Jim Sciutto, CNN’s chief national security correspondent, and included interviews with former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former national security adviser Tom Donilon and former CIA Moscow Station Chief Steven Hall. It aired Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET.
The program began by focusing on cyberattacks that hit Estonia in 2007 and were widely blamed on Moscow. It heavily featured hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Podesta’s Gmail account, which the show blamed on Russia.
And the series raised questions about the possibility of collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s presidential campaign despite there being no known evidence of any such collusion.
The last section of the CNN special touted the controversial dossier.
“Next, was President Trump also in Russia’s crosshairs? The emergence of a mysterious dossier,” the narrator ominously states.
Sciutto tells the audience: “Another continuing question for investigators — does Russia hold information that could be damaging to Donald Trump if made public. The collection of such compromising material, ‘kompromat’ in Russian, is standard operating procedure for Russian spy services.”
The dossier contains wild and unproven claims that the Russians had information regarding Trump and sordid sexual acts, including the widely mocked claim that Trump hired prostitutes and had them urinate on a hotel room bed.
The special then cuts to a CNN video report about information contained in the dossier. In the video report, Sciutto tells viewers that “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.”
The nation’s senior-most intelligence officials took the possibility of potentially compromising information seriously enough to brief both then-President elect Donald Trump and then-President Obama on the existence of a bossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent and funded by Trump’s political opponents.
News first reported by CNN. In conversations described in the dossier, Russian officials and others claimed to have personally and financially compromising information on Trump.
Indeed, CNN was first to report in January that a two-page synopsis of the claims made inside the dossier were presented to both Trump and President Obama during briefings about alleged Russian interference in the election. Leaks about those dossier briefings served as the basis for numerous news media allegations about Russia and Trump.
In the CNN special, Sciutto asked Clapper, “Can you tell us your thinking as to why you included a summary on the now famous dossier and the briefings to the president-elect and the president?”
“Well, we thought that it was important that he know about it. That was the main point. Not to comment on the veracity,” Clapper replied.
Major questions have been raised as to the veracity of the dossier, large sections of which have been discredited.
Citing a “Kremlin insider,” the dossier, which misspelled the name of a Russian diplomat, claimed that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen held “secret meetings” with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016.
That charge unraveled after Cohen revealed he had never traveled to Prague, calling the story “totally fake, totally inaccurate.” The Atlantic confirmed Cohen’s whereabouts in New York and California during the period the dossier claimed that Cohen was in Prague. Cohen reportedly produced his passport showing he had not traveled to Prague.
Citing current and former government officials, the New Yorker reported the dossier prompted skepticism among intelligence community members, with the publication quoting one member as saying it was a “nutty” piece of evidence to submit to a U.S. president.
Steele’s work has been questioned by former acting CIA director Morell, who currently works at the Hillary Clinton-tied Beacon Global Strategies LLC.
According to the BBC, the dossier served as a “roadmap” for the FBI’s investigation into claims of coordination between Moscow and members of Trump’s presidential campaign.
In April, CNN reported that the dossier served as part of the FBI’s justification for seeking the FISA court’s reported approval to clandestinely monitor the communications of Carter Page, the American oil industry consultant who was tangentially and briefly associated with Trump’s presidential campaign.
Senior Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have reportedly requested that the FBI and Department of Justice turn over applications for any warrants to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens associated with the investigation into alleged Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In testimony last month, Comey repeatedly refused to answer questions about his agency’s ties to the dossier.
In testimony earlier this month to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, former FBI Director James B. Comey admitted that he pushed back against a request from President Donald Trump to possibly investigate the origins of “salacious material” that the agency possessed in the course of its investigation into alleged Russian interference.
The “salacious material” is clearly a reference to the dossier, as Breitbart News reported.
Author and journalist Paul Sperry reported in the New York Post last week that the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month threatened to subpoena Fusion GPS, the secretive firm that hired Steele to produce the dossier, because the firm reportedly refused to answer questions about who financed the dossier.
Sperry raised further questions regarding possible connections between Fusion GPS and Hillary Clinton:
Fusion GPS was on the payroll of an unidentified Democratic ally of Clinton when it hired a long-retired British spy to dig up dirt on Trump. In 2012, Democrats hired Fusion GPS to uncover dirt on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And in 2015, Democratic ally Planned Parenthood retained Fusion GPS to investigate pro-life activists protesting the abortion group.
Moreover, federal records show a key co-founder and partner in the firm was a Hillary Clinton donor and supporter of her presidential campaign.
In September 2016, while Fusion GPS was quietly shopping the dirty dossier on Trump around Washington, its co-founder and partner Peter R. Fritsch contributed at least $1,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and the Hillary For America campaign, Federal Election Commission data show. His wife also donated money to Hillary’s campaign.
CNN under fire
CNN, meanwhile, has been under fire since last week, after the network retracted a story that relied on one anonymous source to allege ties between a Trump ally and a Russian investment bank. Three CNN staffers reportedly resigned in the wake of the scandal. The network abruptly deleted and then retracted the story after the narrative was questioned by Breitbart’s Matt Boyle.
CNN faced more controversy after Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe released a video in which the network’s supervising producer, John Bonifield, who works for the medical and health section, referred to the Russia interference story as “mostly bullshit” while indicating the story was being pumped for ratings.
“I just feel like they don’t really have it, but they want to keep digging. And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look you are witch hunting me,” Bonifield was filmed stating. “You have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.”
O’Keefe followed that up with a second video on Wednesday in which CNN commentator Van Jones called the Russia collusion story a “big nothing burger.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.