The Morning Jolt

Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

Why You Should Doubt that Salacious Trump Espionage Memo

It’s looking more and more implausible by the hour, but go ahead, read the 35-page memo posted by BuzzFeed detailing a scenario where Vladimir Putin and the Russian government developed Donald Trump as an ally and an asset, gathered salacious compromising information about him, used him to collect information on Russian émigrés, and colluded with him and his campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Shortly after it was posted, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that the details that made the narrative so compelling are the sorts of ones that could and should be corroborated… before publication.

Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the report is going to be second-guessed by a lot of people and may bring legal action. There are a lot of facts that could have been corroborated before publication. 5b) If Trump can disprove some/any of the specific allegations in the report, it will likely do more to inoculate him than cripple him.

David French pointed out that BuzzFeed is dodging when they say they want Americans to make up their own minds about the veracity of the claims.

How can “Americans make up their own minds” when they have no ability to fact-check the allegations? The public knows nothing about the sources, nothing about the underlying claims, and has no means of discovering the truth. Buzzfeed admits that “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.” It’s been using its journalistic resources trying to verify the claims for “weeks” and hasn’t been able to. But “Americans” can somehow do what Buzzfeed can’t? This isn’t transparency; it’s malice.

Last night, in response to one of the memo’s claims, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen denied that he had ever been to Prague and posted a photo of his passport.

Elaina Plott confirms: “Two USC baseball sources confirm for me that Michael Cohen and his son visited campus on August 29th, time report places him in Prague.”

Wait, there’s more, from the Wall Street Journal: “The FBI has found no evidence that he traveled to the Czech Republic, where the meeting allegedly took place in August of last year, officials said.”

So one major detail in the memo is already proven false: a claim of Cohen secretly meeting with Kremlin officials in Prague in August. If that part is made up, there’s no reason to put more faith in the other allegations.

Various items in the memo that jumped out at me as being odd:

  • For a memo allegedly written by “a former British intelligence agent,” it contains only a few British spellings of words. (I found “cauterise” and “favourably.”) There are other interesting linguistic and style quirks, and a few errors; the author uses the article ‘a’ before the plural noun “showers.”
  • On the other hand, the author knows the plural of “ruble” can be spelled “Roubles.”
  • The author uses the term “e-mail,” not “email”. This is generally the older way of referring to electronic mail.
  • The author refers to “US” not “U.S.”
  • Some pages have hand-written numbering in the corner, some do not.
  • These are photographs of the document, not scans. On pages 10, 11 and some others you can see the shadow of the hand and (presumably) the cell phone used to take the pictures.

Two explosive but implausible claims on page 7. First, “PUTIN motivated by fear and hatred of Hillary CLINTON.” Hatred, I guess I can see, but fear? Really? You think he was afraid of what a Clinton administration would do to Russia? After Hillary’s State Department signed off on a deal that gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States?

Secondly, the memo claims the Russian government was getting “intel from TRUMP’s team on Russian oligarchs and their families in US.” If true, this would be the most devastating allegation in the memo; Trump would be acting as an agent of Russian intelligence.

But think about this for a moment. Yes, Trump has had some dealings with Russian oligarchs over the years. But how much relevant information about those oligarchs would Trump have access to? How much would he know that Russian intelligence wouldn’t already know? And if you were a Russian émigré who the Kremlin didn’t like, would you be hanging around with Donald Trump? Would you be revealing potentially compromising or sensitive information to him?

Page 12: Sometime in July, “Kremlin concerned that political fallout from DNC e-mail hacking is spiraling out of control… President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far now and risked spiraling out of control.” Really? Did it feel like the political fallout was spiraling out of control in July?

Still, Trump’s Getting Briefed on This Stuff By the Intelligence Community

So the memo isn’t all that plausible. But the fact that U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed Trump about it is:

Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

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.

The classified briefings last week were presented by four of the senior-most US intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers.

One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies, senior members of Congress and other government officials in Washington, multiple sources tell CNN.

How would you like to be a fly on the wall for that meeting? “Mr. President-elect, if you turn to page two, we have a summary of the embarrassing information about you that the Russians claim to have…”

Good News: A Bad Federal Program Is Almost Dead.

Over on the home page, I point out that public financing of political conventions is dead and public financing of presidential campaigns is almost dead. As long as elected officials have a lot of power, then powerful financial interests are always going to try to buy access to candidates and goodwill. The best disinfectant is sunlight, and an informed public.

I’m much more bothered by the idea of tax dollars supporting candidates, particularly no-shot gadflies who want to be a celebrity for a year. Guess what? You helped pay for Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign last year.

On January 20, 2016, the FEC sent O’Malley for President a check for $846,365.09. On February 1, O’Malley suspended his campaign after a dismal showing in the Iowa caucuses. By year’s end, the FEC had given his short-lived campaign a bit more than $1 million. The campaign went on to spend $343,638.92 in 2016, according to FEC data — mostly settling bills for accounting, legal, printing, and consulting expenses. The good news is that O’Malley didn’t stiff his vendors. The bad news is your tax dollars helped settle the books.

Public financing is a bad deal for a serious presidential campaign. But if you’re a D-list candidate who wants to raise his profile in the eyes of those handing out book deals and cable-news shows, it’s a terrific deal. If you can raise $100,000 by collecting $5,000 in 20 different states, you’re eligible for matching funds, up to $250 for every individual donor.

Raise your own darn money, candidates.

ADDENDA: Big day ahead, taping the 100th edition of the pop culture podcast.

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