The Current

Reports of Russian intel on Trump could be 'incredibly damaging' if true

The unsubstantiated report shines a light on trust issues in Washington and puts extra scrutiny on secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson's ties to Russia
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump listens to questions from reporters in the lobby at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

While outgoing President Barack Obama was using his farewell speech to warn against fake news, breaking news about the incoming president-elect Donald Trump was being denounced by Trump as fake news.

Leaked intelligence documents with unverified information suggest that the Russian government has damaging personal and financial information on Donald Trump.

Trump and his spokespeople have denounced all of this as "utter garbage" and "fake news."  

Russia has called it a "complete and total fabrication." 

Gideon Resnick, a political reporter for The Daily Beast, says the information was collected by a former British intelligence agent who then forwarded it to members of the U.S. intelligence community.

"As we understand, it was passed up to intelligence communities who viewed that person, the former officer, as being a reliable source as someone that, you know, they needed to take with with a degree of credence for the information that was there."

On Tuesday night the documents were made public.

"CNN had a story that referenced the information ... and Buzzfeed ended up having the dossier itself which had been passed around to a number of media sources and a number of media sources were chasing it and they decided to publish the entire thing. And that has sort of resulted in a little bit of flack in the past 24 hours because the claims are so salacious. And at this point unverified in their entirety," says Resnick.

Trump denied the contents of the report were true again in a press conference Wednesday morning. 

Reactions to the report from Republicans and Democrats have been varied. 

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist with QGA Public Affairs, and a former Senate staffer who has worked with senators Edward Kennedy and Harry Reid, spoke to The Current about the report.

Manley concedes that all of the information in the report remains unsubstantiated but if proven to be true, it could be bad for the president-elect.

"Just when you didn't think it could get more weird or disturbing or dark, last night rolls around with these explosive series of allegations ... I obviously really relished reading this and thought this is incredibly damaging." 

Richard J. Douglas, a lawyer who has worked on the Senate staff for Republicans, is convinced the whole report is fabricated.

"It's obviously a hoax. Whoever wrote this stuff certainly wasn't British, probably was a creative writing intern somewhere and there's nothing there."

In the midst of the controversy, the first of the Senate confirmation hearings into Trump's cabinet choices have begun in Washington.

The FBI investigation into the legitimacy of the report will not "have any effect whatsoever on the hearings," says Douglas. 

Manley, on the other hand, says this issue is not going away anytime soon.

Trump's nominee for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has faced concerns about his ties to Russia.

Manley and Douglas have differing opinions on whether or not Tillerson will be confirmed after his hearing. 

Douglas sees Tillerson's experience as the chairman of Exxon as an experiential advantage for the job of secretary of state.

Tillerson's lack of diplomatic skills has led Manley to believe that he won't get past the hearing process.

"I have five loonies that says that he's not confirmed. It's only five, mind you, but there's any number of Republicans that are raising concerns about Tillerson and his background and his access to Russia, so we'll have to wait and see how he does in the hearing."