Do the Russians have dirt on Trump? That seems to be the question not just of the day but of the year, both last year and this.
Now a report that contains unconfirmed reports about Russia and Trump is circulating. It has been rumored and used as a background source in various news outlets, and now it’s hitting the front pages.
Here’s the report from Buzzfeed:
A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.
The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump.
Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.
The document was prepared for political opponents of Trump by a person who is understood to be a former British intelligence agent. It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors. The report misspells the name of one company, “Alpha Group,” throughout. It is Alfa Group. The report says the settlement of Barvikha, outside Moscow, is “reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates.” It is not reserved for anyone, and it is also populated by the very wealthy.
The Trump administration’s transition team did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. However, the president-elect’s attorney, Michael Cohen, told Mic that the allegations were absolutely false.
“It’s so ridiculous on so many levels,” he said. “Clearly, the person who created this did so from their imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have.”
Unverified doesn’t mean it’s untrue. It just means that it hasn’t been corroborated. Raw data can have errors and still be accurate on the substance of the facts; a misspelling doesn’t mean the whole document is false. And it doesn’t make it “fake news.” Fake news is stuff that’s invented out of nothing — vide The Onion — versus unsubstantiated but verifiable news.
This could be — emphasis on could — very big news. But it’s also unverified and that means we must be cautious.