After months of going after "fake news," President Donald Trump has found a story about a "fake dossier" that he clearly takes to be real news.
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn Wednesday, Trump said that a Washington Post story connecting Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign to a dossier that alleged his 2016 campaign had ties with Moscow was a "disgrace" and "a very sad commentary on politics in this country."
The president has long maintained that stories linking Vladimir Putin's Russia with his campaign were "fake news" and that investigations into possible collusion between Moscow and his camp were part of a "witch hunt."
On Tuesday, the Post tossed some fuel into that fire when it reported that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee had paid for opposition research by the firm Fusion GPS, which had commissioned a dossier that alleged Russian operatives had "been cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for at least five years.
The dossier — really a collection of memos that included unconfirmed salacious gossip about Trump — was written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. According to news reports, the FBI has confirmed portions of the 35-page document, but information about a "clandestine meeting" between Kremlin representatives and a Trump lawyer in Prague has been discredited.
The Post story sent ripples through Washington. Shortly after the story went online, New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel took to Twitter to grouse about Democratic operatives lying to them.
"I do think it's weird that the DNC never 'fessed up," observed Republican political consultant Mike Murphy.
DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa told the Post that Chairman "Tom Perez and the new leadership of the DNC were not involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie (a DNC and Clinton campaign law firm) was working with the organization." Be it noted Perez did not become chairman until February 2017.
Former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted, "I regret I didn't know about Christopher Steele's hiring pre-election. If I had, I would have volunteered to go to Europe and try to help him."
There's a mystery in the story — who is the Republican client who hired Fusion GPS to gather dirt on Trump during the contentious GOP primary? According to The Washington Post, the opposition research firm later passed the information on to Perkins Coie attorney Marc E. Elias.
Murphy, who ran a super PAC that supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary, said he does not believe rumors that a Bush supporter was the original contractor. "If it was JebWorld, I think I would have known about it."
"How does something like that end up on the desk of the FBI?" asked Mark Corallo, a GOP communications strategist who briefly worked on Trump's private legal team. "It's a political document, please."
The FBI has some explaining to do. Former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump later fired, took the dossier so seriously that he stayed behind after a Jan. 6 briefing to discuss it with then President-elect Trump. In addition, both The New York Times and Washington Post have reported that the FBI had agreed to pay Steele to continue gathering more information on Trump and Russia. The FBI ended the arrangement after news reports outed Steele.
Tom Fitton of the government watchdog group Judicial Watch tweeted, "Hmm, Clinton campaign operatives talk to Russian officials to find dirt on @RealDonaldTrump... is that collusion?"
While the Post article is based on anonymous sources and there has been no investigation, Trump seems to have already made up his mind about the story. "Well, I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier," Trump said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, whose bid to discover who was paying Fusion GPS may have set into motion The Washington Post story, responded, "Now that we know who funded the Steele dossier, the next step is for the FBI and Department of Justice to comply — quickly — with the Intelligence Committee subpoenas for documents showing how intelligence agencies used information from the dossier and what steps they took to verify its veracity."