What we know about the bombshell claims in the Trump dossier

Fake news, ‘phoney stuff,’ never happened — so alleged Donald Trump at his first news conference Wednesday as president-elect when confronted with questions about a secret intelligence file allegedly containing compromising personal and financial information.

U.S. president-elect mounts a spirited defence, author believed to be in hiding

Donald Trump, in his first news conference as U.S. president-elect, told reporters in New York City on Wednesday that a BuzzFeed report on a dossier allegedly containing compromising personal and financial information was 'a failing pile of garbage.' (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Fake news, "phoney stuff," never happened — so alleged Donald Trump at his first news conference Wednesday as president-elect when confronted with questions about a secret intelligence file allegedly containing compromising personal and financial information.

The 35-page dossier, reportedly including memos that allege Russia had amassed embarrassing details about Trump's conduct, was front and centre just nine days before the presidential inauguration. 

As the political firestorm rages, the report's author is believed to be in hiding and Trump has mounted a spirited defence. None of the allegations in the dossier have been validated.

Here's what we know about the file and the questions that remain:

What does the dossier contain?

It has been reported that the dossier contains a collection of memos dated from June to December 2016. The claims, which have not been verified, include alleged co-ordination between Trump's inner circle and the Russians about hacking into Democratic email accounts. It also reportedly includes unproven claims about sexual activities by Trump. 

BuzzFeed published the dossier on its site on Tuesday night, saying Americans "can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect."

Are the allegations true?

One intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters that some material in the report has proved untrue. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, also denied an allegation, described in the report, that he had travelled last fall to Prague for a meeting with a Russian official. Cohen said he's never been to Prague.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, said the intelligence community "has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable."

The U.S. intelligence report accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a campaign to undermine November's U.S. election and boost Republican Trump's chances of victory. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

What does the Kremlin say?

Russia has dismissed the allegations, saying it does not have any compromising material on Trump and that the whole episode is "total nonsense."

"It is an attempt to damage our bilateral relations. It is pulp fiction," said Dmitry S. Peskov, Kremlin spokesman.

Is Russia a threat to the U.S.?

Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed discomfort and outrage at Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow orchestrated hacks in a bid to help Trump win. Republican Senator John McCain called the hacking an "unprecedented attack on our democracy."

Trump's own cabinet picks have warned of the potential threat Russia presents. Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state said Wednesday, "Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests."

U.S. intelligence officials released a report in early January that warned Russia was continuing to try to influence U.S. domestic affairs, saying hackers tried to fool government employees into changing their passwords. 

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Who wrote the dossier and why?

The idea to gather a file of Trump's weaknesses and failings came from a wealthy Republican donor who opposed Trump's presidential candidacy, according to the New York Times. He hired Fusion GPS in September 2015, though the unnamed donor eventually dropped the file when Trump became the Republican nominee.

Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton picked up the tab to continue the file, which assumed greater urgency as the Democratic National Committee email hacking scandal was revealed, according to the news agency.

Who is Christopher Steele?

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Fusion GPS then hired Christopher Steele, believed to be a former MI6 agent, according to the Wall Street Journal. Steele, now in hiding, is a director of the London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. He reportedly was posted as a spy in Russia during the 1990s.

How did Trump respond?

A furious Trump responded to the allegations on Twitter and at his news conference, calling the release a "total political witchhunt." He also questioned how the file was made public and declared it would be a "blot" on the intelligence community if they were found to be the source of the leak.

Trump also lashed out at reporters, calling BuzzFeed "a failing pile of garbage." He threatened that the news site would "suffer the consequences" for publishing the dossier. BuzzFeed responded by launching an online shop selling T-shirts and trashcans branded with the "failing pile of garbage" slogan.

Trump also refused a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

"Don't be rude," he said. "No, I'm not going to give you a question. You are fake news."

CNN later responded in a statement that said it was "fully confident" in its reporting.

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When did the media learn about the dossier?

Some of Steele's memos were given to the media, as well as the FBI and MI6, in the fall, according to the New York Times. News organizations that had access to the files did not report on the claims since many were difficult to verify.

But on Tuesday night, CNN reported that intelligence officials had briefed Trump about the dossier. The same night, BuzzFeed published the dossier.

Did anyone else know about the dossier before it was made public?

In late October, then Senate minority leader Harry Reid said FBI director James Comey told him about Trump's Russian entanglements. Reid wrote a letter to the FBI, seeking public disclosure about the case.

"It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information," Reid wrote.

Republican Senator John McCain, a Trump rival, also said he learned of the allegations in mid-November and informed the FBI.

Is the FBI still investigating?

President Barack Obama and Trump were both briefed on the claims last week, according to U.S. officials, who say the information was included in a two-page memo in a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they are continuing to investigate.

With files from The Associated Press, Reuters