US intelligence chiefs last week presented US President Barack Obama and US president-elect Donald Trump with a summary of unsubstantiated reports that Russia had collected compromising and salacious personal information about Trump, two officials with knowledge of the briefing said.
The summary is based on memos generated by political operatives seeking to derail Trump’s candidacy. Details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.
The two-page summary, first reported by CNN, was presented as an appendix to the US intelligence agencies’ report on Russian hacking efforts during the election, the officials said.
The material was not corroborated, and the New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims.
However, intelligence agencies considered it so potentially explosive that they decided Obama, Trump and US congressional leaders needed to be told about it and informed that the agencies were actively investigating it.
Intelligence officials were concerned that the information would leak before they informed Trump of its existence, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly.
On Tuesday night, Trump responded on Twitter: “FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”
In an appearance recorded for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers, Trump’s spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, said of the claims in the opposition research memos: “He has said he is not aware of that.”
Since the intelligence agencies’ report on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the hacking and leaks of Democratic e-mails to hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and help Trump, the president-elect and his aides have said that Democrats are trying to mar his election victory.
The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called “Gang of Eight” — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.
The appendix summarized opposition research memos prepared mainly by a retired British intelligence operative for a Washington political and corporate research firm. The firm was paid for its work first by Trump’s Republican rivals and later by supporters of Clinton. The Times has checked on a number of the details included in the memos, but has been unable to substantiate them.
The memos suggest that for many years, Putin’s government has looked for ways to influence Trump, who has traveled repeatedly to Moscow to investigate real-estate deals or to oversee the Miss Universe competition, which he owned for several years. Trump never completed any major deals in Russia, though he discussed them for years.
The former British intelligence officer who gathered the material about Trump is considered a competent and reliable operative with extensive experience in Russia, US officials said.
However, the British intelligence officer passed on what he heard from Russian informants and others, and what they told him has not yet been vetted by US intelligence.
The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as kompromat, or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Trump in the future.