Newly released memos written by former FBI director James Comey indicate that an early 2017 briefing for then-President-elect Donald Trump about the contents of an infamous dossier was held so it could be leaked to media outlets eager to report on the dossier’s allegations. In multiple memos, Comey specifically mentioned that CNN had the dossier and wanted a “news hook” that would enable the network to report on its most salacious allegations even though they had not been verified.
“I said the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013,” Comey wrote of his conversation with Trump in a classified memo that was released in redacted form late Thursday. “I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands.”
No media organizations had reported the allegations at the time Comey briefed Trump.
“I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook,” Comey added in his memo about the briefing with Trump on January 6, 2017.
In another classified memo written on January 28, 2017, Comey wrote that in a separate meeting Trump mentioned the allegation about the alleged tape of prostitutes at a hotel and called it “fake news.”
“I explained again why I had thought it important that he know about it,” Comey wrote. “I also explained that one of the reasons we told him was that the media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it.”
Of the many thousands of articles promoting a still-unproven theory of treasonous collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia, few were as significant as CNN’s January 10 story “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” Extremely well-placed sources told CNN that the Obama administration’s top intelligence appointees had briefed Obama, Biden, and Trump all about a dossier they took incredibly seriously and considered credible. And it sounded really bad, as the headline indicated.
“Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” CNN declared. BuzzFeed published the actual dossier within minutes of CNN’s story going live, showing the world that the dossier was riddled with salacious gossip that lacked even a possibility of corroboration.
Keep in mind that nothing we now know about the dossier had been reported at the time. It wasn’t yet reported that it was used by the FBI to provide a substantial basis to wiretap at least one Trump affiliate despite the fact it was unverified. It wasn’t yet reported that the product was bought and paid for as a Hillary Clinton campaign operation, or that it was secretly funded by the DNC using a law firm as a pass-through to hide its provenance in federal campaign filings. It wasn’t yet reported that its author’s working relationship with the FBI was terminated because he had lied to the agency about how he wouldn’t talk to the media.
After nearly a year of wrangling, the seven memos written by Comey were finally handed over on Thursday to Congress, which oversees the operation and funding of the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ). The memos purport to show Comey’s version of his interactions with the president before Comey was fired last May. According to Daniel Richman, the original recipient of Comey’s leaks who now claims to be his personal attorney, Comey gave him four memos. Four of the seven memos are classified, meaning that at least one of the memos he leaked was classified. By his own account, Comey orchestrated these leaks to the media in order to launch an aggressive special counsel to avenge his firing by Trump in May 2017. The memos given to Congress on Thursday were quickly leaked to the media.
The first memo was sent on January 7, 2017, to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, General Counsel James Baker, and James Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff. McCabe has since been fired from the FBI and referred to DOJ for criminal prosecution for repeatedly lying under oath about leaking. Baker was reassigned. And Rybicki was replaced in January of 2018.
There are two things in the memo that are worth highlighting as relate to that blockbuster CNN story from January 10, 2017.
First, Comey claims that briefing the president-elect was the brainchild of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“I said there was something that Clapper wanted me to speak to the [president-elect] about alone or in a very small group,” Comey wrote. More on that in a bit.
“I then executed the session exactly as I had planned,” Comey noted before going into details of what he claimed he told the president-elect. He wrote that he told him about the now-infamous prostitute pee-pee videotape claims contained in the dossier. Then he wrote:
“I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands. I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them the excuses to write that the FBI has the material or [REDACTED] and that we were keeping it very close-hold. He said he couldn’t believe they hadn’t gone with it. I said it was inflammatory stuff that they would get killed for reporting straight up from the source reports.
Such a close-hold that someone at a very high level in the Obama administration gave the information to CNN almost immediately. CNN broke the news of the dossier and Comey’s briefing of the president just four days later.
With Comey claiming that Clapper wanted him to brief POTUS, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence final report on Russia has something of interest. The report, which was downplayed and panned by CNN, included a finding of interest related to discussions of the dossier with the media:
Finding #44: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, now a CNN national security analyst, provided inconsistent testimony to the Committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.”
So Comey, at Clapper’s expressed behest, told Trump that CNN was “looking for a news hook” to publish dossier allegations. He said this in the briefing of Trump that almost immediately leaked to CNN, which provided them the very news hook they sought and needed.
This briefing, and the leaking of it, legitimized the dossier, which touched off the Russia hysteria. That hysteria led to a full-fledged media freakout. During the freakout, Comey deliberately refused to say in public what he acknowledged repeatedly in private — that the President of the United States was not under investigation. He even noted in his memos that he told the president at least three times that he was not under investigation. Comey’s refusal to admit publicly what he kept telling people privately led to his firing.
That led to Comey leaking multiple memos in order to get a special counsel appointed out of revenge. That special counsel has utterly distracted multiple agencies and embroiled all three branches of government at the highest levels. All over a document that was secretly funded by Hillary Clinton and the DNC, contracted by a Democrat research firm with ties to the Kremlin, and authored by a shady foreign spy whose relationship with the FBI was terminated because he lied to them.