As we all know by now, Buzzfeed released a dossier that had been circulating in Washington for months, that contained, among other things, allegations that Donald Trump paid prostitutes to urinate on each other in a Moscow hotel room. Supposedly, a former British intelligence agent named Christopher Steele, who holds extensive connections in Russia, was hired to collect “opposition research,” aka “oppo,” about Trump. (The BBC has reported that Steele and his firm were initially hired by Jeb Bush’s SuperPAC, but multiple people connected to Bush’s failed campaign have come forward to dispute the accusation, so who hired Steele is still unclear at this time.) The internet had jokes, and then Trump hit the roof, and the internet had more jokes, but that was just one page of a fascinating thirty-five-page collection of what could amount to gossip with a lot of dirt to dig through.
The most important point to make, at the moment, is that it’s unknown how much of the report is substantiated, which means that some media outlets — most notably the New York Times — don’t trust it. Even Buzzfeed, which published the dossier, states that it contains some errors. Nonetheless, it’s still fascinating to dig into and raises a host of potential red flags — once you get past the sensational aspect of the report centered around alleged sexual perversions — as it’s reasonable to assume that some parts of it may be true, given the spy credentials of the person who compiled it and the seriousness with which people in government took it (This made it all the way up to the president, after all). For benefit of those who don’t have time to read the entire report, here are the five main highlights.
1. Trump Has Financial Conflicts Elsewhere In The World
While Trump’s exposure to financial problems in Russia is presumably limited, that’s maybe not true elsewhere in the world. The report claims that Trump’s organization has paid bribes and kickbacks in China and elsewhere, and the campaign believed that this would be enormously damaging. While there’s yet to be any substantiation of this, we do know that Trump has substantial investments in China and that his son-in-law Jared Kushner is also pursuing a deal there even as he advises Trump.
2. The Trump Campaign Had Extensive, And High Ranking, Russian Contacts
While Trump himself is allegedly fairly insulated from Russia, people who have worked for him decidedly aren’t. The report names four notable Trump campaign advisers by name: Lobbyist Paul Manafort, political consultant Roger Stone, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and lawyer Michael Cohen. All except Cohen have extensive connections to Russian industry and government. Paul Manafort was supposedly fired as Trump’s campaign manager after allegations that Manafort received “black money” from former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych; Stone is allegedly closely connected to the DNC email leaks; and Page has long worked in Russia for Merrill Lynch and others in investment and finance.
The four are alleged to have met with senior Russian officials including Putin advisor Igor Sechin, internal affairs official Igor Divyekin, and bureaucrat Konstantin Kosachev. Cohen, in particular, is alleged to have met with officials in Prague for a secret meeting to clean up Manafort’s mess, something he strenuously denied on Twitter. U.S. intelligence officials told CNN’s Jake Tapper that it was a different man named Michael Cohen who visited Prague at the time in question.
3. Russian Hacking Isn’t As Advanced As You Think, And The Russian Government Is Not United On It
One of the major glossed-over details of the report is that it went into detail on Russia’s hacking attempts, goals, successes, and failures. There are apparently four goals — including breaching rival governments, especially Western ones; attacking Western corporations, particularly banks; monitoring the upper class of Russia; and “attacking political opponents both at home and abroad.”
The good news is that apparently, Russia hasn’t had much success breaching the computer systems of foreign governments. Supposedly Russia has been more successful breaching corporate computer systems, which isn’t much of a surprise. Russia is alleged to have an extensive network of spies, both witting and unwitting, and the report contains complaints from Russian authorities about having to accommodate money laundering and other schemes and attempts to recruit Americans of Russian extraction for various spy jobs.
The most successful of these operations is, of course, the DNC email hack, but apparently, Putin is the only fan of it. The report claims that most senior Russian operatives fear the long-term consequences of angering the American intelligence community. Or they simply want the sanctions lifted so they can conduct the basic business of diplomatic visits and governing, and they believed the operation would ultimately make things worse.
Interestingly, Putin’s long-term goal seems to be spying on his own people. The report claims the Trump campaign offered information on the business activities of various Russian elites, with which Putin seemed to be “preoccupied,” in the report’s terms. Indeed, one entire memo is dedicated to groups holding dirt on Putin from his time as mayor of St. Petersburg. There’s also reports of disagreements and infighting over the operations, including some “wishful thinking” that Trump would resign.
4. Trump Isn’t The Only U.S. Politician The Kremlin Has Made Overtures To
While Trump is the focus of the report, he isn’t the only politician named in it. Overall, while the report focuses on American activities, there are implications that Putin, at least, is contacting politicians elsewhere and hedging his bets, so to speak. In terms of American politics, directly named are Lyndon LaRouche, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Carter Page, claiming they all had trips to Russia paid for by the Kremlin “indirectly.” Flynn and Stein both had dinner with Putin this year, and it’s unclear what the phrase “indirectly” means. It’s worth remembering that foreign countries can easily donate to political campaigns via super PACs and American proxies without the politicians themselves realizing just where the money ultimately comes from.
5. There Could Be Spies Inside The DNC
Oddly ignored amid the other revelations is that the report claims, multiple times, that Russia and the Trump campaign had “moles” within the DNC and the Hillary campaign feeding them information. While Russia has made many attempts to infiltrate America after the Cold War, it’s not clear where these spies are supposed to be or how highly placed they are.
Again, none of this has been substantiated by U.S. intelligence and Trump claims that the report is “a complete fabrication.” It should be kept in mind that until journalists or government intelligence agencies confirm the specific details in the report, they should be treated the same way we treat any type of gossip. That said, the memos contain some fairly serious allegations, some of which could be a problem for the incoming Trump administration unless they’re cleared up quickly. In politics, it’s said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and if this memo really is just gossip, throwing open the metaphorical curtains to let the sun shine in could clear things up quickly.