Updated on January 10 at 6:36 p.m.
Despite all of Donald Trump’s best efforts, the question of whether and why Russia interfered in the presidential election continues to dog him.
The latest twist comes from a bombshell report published early Tuesday evening by CNN, with four bylines, including Watergate legend Carl Bernstein. The story is unsettling, because it touches on suggestions that the Russian government might have compromising information about the president-elect. But the story is significantly more nuanced than that, and requires a careful parsing.
Here’s what CNN does say: When top intelligence officials briefed Trump last week on their conclusion that Russia interfered with the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and aid Trump’s presidential hopes, they presented him a two-page classified memo that included allegations that Russian agents say they have “compromising personal and financial information” about him. It is not, clear, however, whether U.S. intelligence officials believe those allegations to be true.
These senior intelligence officials also included the synopsis to demonstrate that Russia had compiled information potentially harmful to both political parties, but only released information damaging to Hillary Clinton and Democrats … The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.
That doesn’t mean the claim that Russian agents possessed the information was necessarily true. The origin of the claim, in fact, is decidedly partisan. A major source for the report delivered to Trump was a set of memos prepared by a former British intelligence operative, who gathered the information while working as an opposition researcher for both anti-Trump Republicans and later for Democrats.