On Tuesday CNN and BuzzFeed published bombshell stories about an unverified intelligence report that alleged that the president-elect had been “compromised” by Russia, which planned on using financial information and a video of Trump watching prostitutes peeing on a bed that the Obamas had slept on to potentially blackmail him. The report also claimed that Russian intelligence and people very close to Trump communicated regularly, and that Trump had agreed “to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine” in exchange for Russia helping him win the election.
Trump responded shortly after the reports went live, tweeting that they were “FAKE NEWS” and linking to a story published in Laura Ingraham’s Lifezette website, which ironically is probably best known for publishing fake news. And early Wednesday morning he returned to the subject without, sadly, ever mentioning the word “pee”:
With the exception of Trump’s confusing reference to “Nazi Germany,” which is not historically accurate in any way (who is Trump supposed to be in this analogy?), this is the Trump playbook in a nutshell. He dismisses reporting—which was, it’s worth noting, very upfront about its flaws—as “fake news.” He argues that it’s meant to not just discredit him, but his supporters as well. And he does this by claiming that highly dubious sources (Russia, in this case) are more trustworthy and accurate than American intelligence.
One reason that this report took so long to be published is that it’s very hard to verify: There is no smoking gun showing communications between Trump and Russia, for instance, and you can’t prove a negative—that is, you can’t prove that Russia doesn’t have this information. Of course, Trump’s claim that he has “NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” should also be treated with skepticism because it would be easy for him to prove—all he has to do is release his tax returns. Until he does, Trump’s financial connections to Russia should be treated as an open question. The other allegations in the report should also be treated with skepticism, but they should also be investigated by Congress.
The leaked report also means that Trump’s war with the intelligence community may only be getting started. Trump resents leaks that damage his reputation and legitimacy, while intelligence agencies resent Trump’s disdain for their work and the damage he is doing to their credibility. Every action thus far has provoked an equal and opposite reaction. Of course, Trump’s team will be taking over the reins very soon, which could have a chilling effect. But right now it looks like the first weeks of Trump’s presidency could be defined by a mutually damaging feud.