Day 6

The Trump dossier: fact, fiction and everything in between

This week, explosive but unsubstantiated allegations emerged about President-elect Donald Trump and his possible ties to Russia. Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn interviewed the spy who investigated and wrote the so-called Trump dossier. Corn discusses the merits of the report and why it's important that all the claims be investigated.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 11, 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

It was damning, concerning, salacious and also unverified.

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed published memos written by a former British intelligence officer privately hired to investigate Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia.

The main allegations against Trump are that his staff exchanged information with the Russian government and that the Kremlin has damning information that could be used against him. There were also graphic details of an alleged sexual encounter involving Trump at the Moscow Ritz Hotel.

A heated debate has emerged over BuzzFeed's decision to publish the unverified claims, but once the story hit social media, it starting trending almost immediately.


Right to the source

David Corn is one of the few journalists — maybe the only one — who has interviewed the man who wrote the Trump dossier.

Corn is the Washington Bureau Chief with the news magazine Mother Jones. He wrote about it in October, one week before the U.S. presidential election. But unlike BuzzFeed, he did not write about specific details in the memo.

"I didn't [publish] because the material within the memos, I couldn't verify it or confirm — particularly the more lurid allegations," he tells CBC Day6 host Brent Bambury.

Corn goes on to note that he was able to verify and vet the former counterintelligence officer who wrote the memos, and that the man is considered credible and taken seriously by people in the U.S. national security community.

"To me, the news was that he had found information indicating that Russia had an operation to cultivate and co-opt Donald Trump, and that Donald Trump and his inner circle were receiving a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin," says Corn. "And that he sent that information to the FBI, and the FBI had asked him for more information."

Within a few weeks of taking on this assignment he started coming up with information that troubled him to such a degree that he started sharing it with the FBI.- David Corn
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 13: President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters after his meeting with television personality Steve Harvey at Trump Tower. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The question of credibility

Corn takes time to point out that he has not identified the person who wrote the intelligence memos, but other news organizations have identified him as Christopher Steele, a former British spy who worked in Russia in the early 1990s. Steele has now gone into hiding.

Corn says he met the former spy through an intermediary.

"He was very reluctant. He was very reticent to speak to me," says Corn. "He thought this issue was very important, but he was not running door-to-door waving these memos around saying 'talk to me, talk to me.'"

Corn says the intelligence officer was hired by a political research firm in the U.S. to investigate Trump's activities in Europe and Russia.

"He didn't come to them. They came to him. And within a few weeks of taking on this assignment, he started coming up with information that troubled him to such a degree that he started sharing it with the FBI."

For that reason, Corn does not think the former spy's memos were part of a partisan political agenda.

"I think he was genuinely upset by what he started to find and wanted the people in authority to know about it."


The investigation

Corn acknowledges that he doesn't know if the truth will ever be uncovered. But he hopes that the FBI will look into every allegation in the memos, particularly drawing attention to the fact that although the memos are not proven fact, they are from a credible source.

"I think much of this, or most of it, is ascertainable," says Corn.

He says some allegations may never be verified, but raises another concern.

"[The investigation] may be done through the type of means that the FBI and the national security community would not want to reveal to the public," he says. "People within government might know what's true, what's not true regarding some of these allegations. And yet the public might be kept in the dark."