A few notes on the “Russia Memos”
I thought I’d write a few notes on the explosive Russia Memos controversy.
The issue broke last night when CNN published this story giving details on a collection of memos that’s been making the rounds among intelligence officials and members of Congress, and which has been presented to President-Elect Trump and President Obama. The research was initially funded by an anti-Trump Republican and secured by an intelligence contractor, and it makes several strong allegations about Trump, and his relationship to Russia.
It has been available to media for some time, but numerous publications have declined to report on it (with the conspicuous exception of Mother Jones, which published this article in October of last year), as all of its claims are thus far unsubstantiated. After the CNN story broke, numerous outlets followed suit, such as the New York Times in this article.
Salacious details about possible compromising material the Russians may hold over Trump have gotten a lot of attention, but obviously the far more serious charge is that members of Trump’s team met with Russian officials to coordinate attacks against the Clinton campaign and the Democrats. According to page 2 of the memo, for example:
Source A confided that the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, for several years … This was confirmed by Source D, a close associate of TRUMP who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow, and who reported, also in June 2016, that this Russian intelligence had been “very helpful”.
Also see page 7 for more relevant information.
According to the New York Times:
The author of the memos is Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with MI-6, who once served in Moscow. After Mr. Steele retired in 2009, he founded a private firm called Orbis Business Intelligence in London. Former CIA officials described him as an expert on Russia who is well respected in the spy world.
The Wall Street Journal has also attributed the memo to Christopher Steele.
The response from the Trump camp has been predictable, with Trump berating Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter at a press conference, refusing to take his question, and calling the organization “fake news.” Displaying his customary poise and gravitas, he also took to Twitter to make his case, likening his tribulations to those suffered by victims of the Nazi regime.
A widespread rumor among our particularly credulous friends on the right holds that the whole memo was cooked up as a prank by an anonymous member of the Internet message board and cesspool 4chan. This argument is every bit as stupid as it sounds, but if you need a handy rebuttal, Gizmodo spared me the trouble of writing one.
Two thoughts about the situation so far:
1) Let’s not turn this into a carnival about Trump’s alleged sexual habits – that is a distraction. The serious allegations are about cooperation with a belligerent foreign power to win the election – that must be taken seriously. Really, don’t let this become a circus.
2) No one is kidding around when they call these reports “unsubstantiated.” We believe that the source is credible, and dismissing all of these allegations in aggregate as “fake news” is obviously foolhardy in the extreme, and trifles with the very foundations of our democratic republic. At the same time, we do not yet know what is real here. The Lawfare Blog wrote a good post that agrees closely with my own take on this.
- The New York Times published a useful summary of events here.
- BBC reports that the memo author is in hiding, and fears for his life.
- Matt Taibbi wrote a persuasive argument that the intelligence community needs to stop playing games and give full disclosure to the American public immediately, following a report that US intelligence officials warned Israeli intelligence about sharing information with President-Elect Trump, owing to Russian leverage.