Memos reportedly written by a “former British intelligence operative” and circulated throughout the U.S. intelligence committee allege that the Russian government has collected compromising information about President-elect Donald Trump over several years. They also claim that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, met with Kremlin officials to orchestrate the release of documents hacked from American political organizations.
The collection of memos, prepared as opposition research for political figures and later obtained and published by BuzzFeed News, contain unverified claims about Trump’s dealings with Russia and some easily disproved errors. The FBI is investigating the claims and has not confirmed some of them, CNN reports. A summary of the 35-page collection of memos was presented to President Barack Obama and to Trump, according to CNN. TechCrunch contacted the Trump transition team for comment and will update if we receive a response. Trump tweeted, seemingly in reference to the report, that it was “fake news” and a “political witch hunt.”
The memos claim that a number of Trump associates, including Cohen and advisers Paul Manafort and Carter Page, engaged in discussions with Russian officials regarding the presidential election.
Cohen and three colleagues traveled to Prague in August or September of 2016, the memos allege, to meet with Russian operatives. Cohen discussed payments to be made to hackers working against the Clinton campaign and how to dismantle the attack infrastructure after the election, according to the memos. Cohen was allegedly also involved in covering up the reported Russian ties of Manafort and Page: “COHEN engaged with Russians in trying to cover up scandal of MANAFORT and exposure of PAGE and meets Kremlin officials secretly in the EU in August in pursuit of this goal,” the report states.
Cohen denied the allegations on Twitter, stating, “I have never been to Prague in my life.” Update: CNN and other outlets report that another person named Michael Cohen traveled to Prague during the time frame in question, but that Trump’s attorney was in Los Angeles.
The memos echo the U.S. intelligence community’s recent assertion that Russia leaked data exfiltrated from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign officials in order to support Trump’s campaign and damage his opponent’s.
“TRUMP’s associate reported that the aim of leaking the DNC e-mails to WikiLeaks during the Democratic Convention had been to swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP. These voters were perceived as activist and anti-status quo and anti-establishment and in that regard sharing many features with the TRUMP campaign, including a visceral dislike of Hillary CLINTON. This objective had been conceived and promoted, inter alia, by TRUMP’s foreign policy adviser Carter PAGE who had discussed it directly with the ethnic Russian associate,” one memo reads.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly disappointed that the leaks did not appear to have a significant impact on the Clinton campaign, the memos claim.
The documents allege that Russian officials and president-elect Trump have been exchanging intelligence for up to eight years. Trump reportedly has continuously provided them with information on the activity of Russian business figures in the U.S., both in exchange for intel on Clinton and, it is hinted, to avoid a dossier of highly damaging material on himself from being made public.
Specifically, the memos describe a number of sexual escapades caught on video at FSB-monitored hotels. In one instance Trump is alleged to have hired prostitutes in Moscow to urinate on the bed that had previously been occupied by President Obama and the First Lady. Trump’s “sexual perversion,” as the memos describe it, was apparently well known to intelligence officials and focused on as a source of compromising material.
Russian cybersecurity efforts are characterized as only partly successful despite a great deal of resources being dedicated to them. Most successful were efforts to turn Russians abroad and ambitious business leaders into agents, coercing them into adding back doors into software or company databases. An internal source at the DNC is partly credited with achieving that hack.
The messaging app Telegram, which came under fire earlier this year for sub-standard encryption implementation, is called out specifically as being compromised by intelligence services. It has been “heavily targeted” according to the memos and is known to be insecure. TechCrunch has contacted Telegram for comment and will update if we receive a response. Update: Telegram CEO Pavel Durov told TechCrunch he believes the memos are “99% fake.”
“However, if the report is not fake, it probably refers to the story of SMS interception by FSB in April 2016 (or similar incident),” he added.
The DNC hack has been divisive in the Russian intelligence committee, the documents suggest, citing various officials and other sources. It is alleged to have been performed with the full knowledge of the Trump campaign, specifically Paul Manafort, in exchange for relaxing the response to Russian interference in Ukraine.
Trump Foreign Affairs adviser Carter Page is specifically named as having conducted secret meetings with Russian officials to negotiate the exchange of intel on Clinton and to discuss other deals to be made, such as relaxing sanctions or collaborating on energy policy.
The hack’s effect on the election was enormous, but the backlash from American media and officials was greater than expected, the documents suggest. Senior officials were furious and worried Russia will be conclusively sourced as the perpetrators and its connections to Trump exposed. Internal strife is described in which some officials refuse to be a further part of or cover up for those who initiated the hack.
Ultimately the strategy changed to allow things to cool off, according to the memos, and Russian operatives reportedly focused on dividing the U.S. both at the elite and voter level, hoping to create a chaotic environment in which any president would find it hard to maneuver.
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith detailed his decision to publish the memos in a letter to his staff, which he also shared on Twitter. He noted that there is “serious reason” to doubt the allegations contained in the memos: