Throughout the 2016 election, a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele collected information on what he considered to be a troubling relationship between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian interests. He then compiled that information into a dossier.
In October of 2016, Mother Jones reported that an unnamed intelligence officer had been collecting information that the Russian government had been grooming Trump for several years in order to hurt Western alliances — and to get Trump elected as president. Reporter David Corn added that the anonymous officer had turned the information over to the FBI.
After Trump was elected president, lawmakers were briefed on the dossier, with more information having been added to it. And then, in early 2017, both President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump were briefed the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and about the dossier.
And then, on January 10, 2017 — two years ago, today — CNN reported that the dossier consisted of “compromising personal and financial information,” and that both the current and the future president had been briefed on it. Then, later that day, Buzzfeed became the first news outlet to publish the dossier itself.
Buzzfeed described the dossier as “explosive — but unverified — allegations” which “has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks,” and described the allegations as newsworthy for those reasons. The site acknowledged that the dossier consisted of “specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians.”
This specifically referred to the allegation that there was a so-called “pee tape,” and also that Trump attorney Michael Cohen had visited Prague in order to meet with Russian operatives. The latter assertion has not ever been substantiated, and Cohen continues to deny that he ever went to Prague — despite now cooperating with prosecutors against his former client.
A toast to my @BuzzFeedNews colleague/desk neighbor @kenbensinger, an amazing reporter AND an author, who two years ago today published the document he obtained that would become known as the Steele dossier. Cheers, Ken! ????????????️????https://t.co/lePhxw42nK
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) January 10, 2019
Buzzfeed was then sued by a Russian executive named Aleksej Gubarev, who claimed that they neglected to redact his name when publishing the document. But Buzzfeed won the suit late last year, and editor Ben Smith declared the company as having been vindicated in a Vanity Fair interview, afterward.
“The broad outline of what Steele was writing is unquestionably true, and he was writing that in the summer of 2016, which is extraordinary,” Smith said. He also noted that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted for things that were discussed in the dossier, while other assertions therein have also since been confirmed.
President Trump has repeatedly called Steele’s work the “dirty dossier,” and has claimed that nothing in it is true.