A new report discloses that intelligence officials conveyed to President-elect Donald Trump, as well as President Obama, that Russia claimed to have compromising information about Trump. Further, there is reportedly evidence of ongoing communication "between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government" during the campaign. This raises the alarming possibility that Trump was aware he had been compromised and has been colluding with Russia as a result.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers reportedly told both President Obama and President-elect Trump that Russia is saying it has compromising personal and financial information about Trump.
According to CNN, the brief synopsis containing this information was not included in the official Intelligence Community Assessment, "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections," but rather was a two-page summary of a larger body of intelligence.
The brief summary also reportedly included the bombshell allegation there was "a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government" [emphasis added]. This allegation is supported by a statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov immediately after the U.S. presidential election that "there were contacts" between Russian government officials and Trump surrogates during the campaign. During his statement at that time, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov casually commented, "Obviously, we know most of the people from [Trump’s] entourage."
On Tuesday, during a hearing about Russian interference in the election, Senator Angus King asking Comey directly if there was an investigation underway into connections between either of the political campaigns and the Russians. Comey declined to answer.
Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has previously gone on record saying, in reference to Russian interference in the election, "Someone in the Trump campaign organization was in on the deal. I have no doubt. Now, whether they told [Trump] or not, I don’t know. I assume they did. But there is no question about that. So there is collusion there, clearly."
When the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee was first reported in June of 2016, DNC representatives indicated the hackers had gained access to the entire database of opposition research on Trump. Opposition research is material collected by political organizations to use both in vetting candidates to determine their areas of vulnerability and, in some cases, as part of attack ads against opponents. It can include anything from voting records to information about financial malfeasance to embarrassing personal information to audio and visual recordings. The CNN report says some of the information it is reviewing originated as opposition research gleaned first by anti-Trump GOP and later by Democrats, but it does not indicate if hacked material is included.
The Russian government has a long history of taking the leverage of opposition research a step further into what is called "kompromat." Kompromat sometimes involves enticing people to take actions that can be used against them (such as illicit sexual activities or illegal financial dealings), recording the events, and then using the recordings to coerce and control the person’s behavior in the future. Russian kompromat reportedly even sometimes involves planting child pornography on the electronic devices of politicians and then "discovering" the incriminating material to ruin political opponents.
The most recent revelations by CNN bolster the groundbreaking report from October 2016 by David Corn of Mother Jones about a veteran spy providing information to the FBI about an operation by the Russian government to "cultivate" Trump.
As news of yet another critical mass of information about Trump’s relationship with Russia emerges, the questions that have never gone away only continue to demand answers with increasing urgency.
The American people deserve answers about two things at a minimum: First, what information might the Russian government possess that it could be using or use in the future to control Trump’s actions and possibly cause him to act contrary to the interests of the United States? And second, what degree of communication and/or collusion was there between Trump surrogates and representatives of the Russian government during the campaign?
Perhaps most importantly: what did Trump himself know and when did he know it?