Russia, Trump Deny Allegations Made in Unverified Report Published by BuzzFeed

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

By Liberty McArtor Published on January 11, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump and the Russian government are denying allegations made in an unverified report about their relationship published by BuzzFeed Tuesday night. The widely-circulated story has led to a furious round of media activity Wednesday, and even forced the once-proud CNN on the defensive

The 35-page unverified report contains claims that Russia has assisted Trump in the past and possesses compromising information about his activities in Russia. 

In a news conference on Wednesday morning, Trump called the report “nonsense.” 

Shortly after BuzzFeed released the story Tuesday night, Trump refuted the allegations in a series of tweets, calling the report “FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT,” and writing that “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” 

For its part, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin “does not engage in collecting compromising material,” Fox News reported.

Where Did the Allegations Come From?

As CNN reported, the document is compiled of memos from a former British intelligence operative and claims from unverified Russian sources. The report was initially put together during the election by those opposed to Trump’s campaign.

CNN reported Wednesday that a two-page synopsis of the document had been provided to both Trump and President Barack Obama, but CNN declined to publish any details about the report, claiming that it had “not independently corroborated the specific allegations.” Later, NBC contradicted CNN’s report, saying that according to their intelligence sources Trump was neither briefed on the allegations nor given a synopsis. 

Portions of the report have been circulating among intelligence officials and members of the media since last year, CNN reported, but no outlet had published the report itself — though some previously referenced its existence.

The FBI received the report from both the former British operative and from Sen. John McCain, who admitted to forwarding documents to the agency last year. He said in a statement:

Late last year, I received sensitive information that has since been made public. Upon examination of the contents, and unable to make a judgment about their accuracy, I delivered the information to the Director of the FBI. That has been the extent of my contact with the FBI or any other government agency regarding this issue.

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith tweeted on Tuesday night a photo of an email sent to his staff explaining the decision to publish the material, even though other news outlets had not. In the email he quoted from the story itself, which stated, “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

“Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call,” Smith wrote, “and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”

The initial BuzzFeed story acknowledged that the allegations were unverified and that the report contained factual errors.

BuzzFeed Criticized

Journalists on Twitter and elsewhere questioned BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the report.

Huffington Post writer Julia Ioffe said she was approached with the story and declined to move forward because “it was impossible to verify.”

Jake Tapper of CNN called BuzzFeed’s story an “irresponsible posting of uncorroborated 35-pager.”

As Fox News reported, media ethicist Kelly McBride of Poynter called Buzzfeed’s decision “a significant departure from the way editors of most significant publications would define the role of reporting.”

“The act of publishing the dossier in its entirety isn’t journalism. Vetting the document and determining it’s veracity? That’s the work of journalists in 2017, or any other year,” she wrote.

Trump, Senior Official Claim Briefing Never Happened

Trump and his team claim he was never briefed on the allegations, contrary to CNN’s reporting on Wednesday, which set the stage for BuzzFeed’s release of the document. A senior official told NBC that while a two-page synopsis was prepared, the briefing that was actually given to the president-elect was oral and did not include mention of the allegations. The official said that no physical documents regarding the allegations were left with Trump or his team. 

In a statement released Wednesday, CNN defended its decision to publish its “carefully sourced reporting,” and encouraged the Trump transition team to “identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.”

As conservative columnist and author Ben Shapiro tweeted Wednesday, the fact that the briefing never took place “blows that CNN report sky high.”

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