Dossier stirs up a dirty old row
Under-fire Trump attacks 'sleazebag political operatives' for making up stories about him that are nothing other than 'phoney allegations'
Donald Trump has lashed out at the ex-MI6 operative who prepared a dossier claiming Russia had explosive intelligence on him as a "failed spy" as Theresa May distanced the UK from the former agent.
Trump said Christopher Steele, who spent two decades with the secret intelligence service, collaborated with his political rivals to concoct "phoney allegations". He dismissed the alleged conspirators as "sleazebag political operatives", noting that Russia has denied collecting compromising information about him.
Steele's status as a former UK spy threatened to cause a diplomatic row, with the Russian embassy in London suggesting he was still working on behalf of the British government to damage both Mr Trump and the Kremlin.
Theresa May said in a press conference yesterday that her government had nothing to do with the so-called "dirty dossier".
"From everything you will have seen it is absolutely clear that the individual who produced this dossier has not worked for the UK government for years," she said.
Steele had originally been hired by political operatives eager for information that could damage Trump. He went to the FBI without their permission after he determined that what he had gathered was "sufficiently serious", a journalist who interviewed Steele last year revealed yesterday.
David Corn, of Mother Jones, the liberal news website, said the FBI asked Steele how he had obtained the information, and requested that he forward future findings.
Steele told him he had been trusted by the FBI because "my track record as a professional is second to none".
Trump reacted furiously to the release of the documents, which contain lurid but unsubstantiated allegations about his conduct in a Moscow hotel room. He and his aides have repeatedly disparaged CNN for reporting that a synopsis of the dossier had been presented to him at an intelligence briefing last week before it was published in full on Monday by Buzzfeed.
Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump adviser, denied that the President-elect had been briefed on the matter, and Trump called the reports "fake news".
Those claims were challenged by a subsequent CNN report on Thursday night which said James Comey, the FBI director, had discussed the dossier in a one-on-one meeting with Trump last Friday.
Other US media also reported that a meeting between Trump and Comey had taken place.
Joe Biden, the vice-president, said he and Barack Obama were briefed on the matter because US intelligence was concerned it would soon become public.
With ties between the incoming administration and the Kremlin now under heavy scrutiny, Trump's aides jumped into rapid response mode after the Washington Post claimed Michael Flynn, the retired general and soon-to-be national security adviser, had been in repeated contact with the Russian ambassador to Washington hours before Obama prepared to announce new sanctions on Moscow.
Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, said Michael Flynn had a single phone conversation with Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador, on December 28 to arrange a call between Trump and Vladimir Putin.
However, it was later reported that there had been several phone calls between the two men on that date, one day before Obama ordered 35 suspected Russian spies to leave the USA.
Obama made another controversial foreign policy decision yesterday, easing sanctions on Sudan despite the country's poor human rights record, in a surprise diplomatic breakthrough. The move was a reward for cooperation on counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing.
Trump received some welcome news as the path was cleared for James Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general, to be confirmed as his defence secretary. Gen Mattis needs a waiver to take the civilian post because he retired from the military within the past seven years, but President Obama said he would sign his appointment off after it passed the Republican-controlled Congress.
The process to confirm Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO nominated for secretary of state, has a more difficult path due in part to concerns over his links with Russia.