Top U.S. intelligence officials have briefed leaders in Washington about an explosive — but unverified — document that alleges collusion between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump, NPR has learned.
The brief, which NPR has seen but not independently verified, was given by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain to FBI Director James Comey on Dec. 9. Details from it have been part of presentations by Comey and other intelligence leaders to Trump, President Obama and key leaders in Congress.
On Tuesday night, Trump, and his attorney named in the report, separately characterized the document as untrue. Without mentioning the report directly, Trump tweeted, "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!"
Trump has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday — his first in 166 days, following a quip in which he invited Russia to hack materials related to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
NPR is not detailing the contents of the brief because it remains unverified, but it describes a concerted effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his camp. The document, which describes information provided by Russian government and other sources, details behavior by Trump that could leave him open to blackmail, as well as alleged secret meetings between Trump aides and Russian officials called to discuss the campaign against Clinton and potential new business relationships.
The U.S. intelligence services declined to comment on Tuesday evening. Members of Congress on the Intelligence and Armed Services committees also declined to comment.
Members of Trump's camp issued their own denials separately from Trump.
"Once again these reports have no documentation," Trump confidante Roger Stone told NPR. "So far we have 'assessments' and 'briefings.' The special report prepared for Trump even noted that no evidence was included and that 'such documents are so top secret they must remain confidential.'
Attorney Michael Cohen, who is a key figure in the allegations detailed in the report, denied to The Atlantic on Tuesday evening that he'd made a trip to the Czech Republic that it describes.
"I'm telling you emphatically that I've not been to Prague, I've never been to Czech, I've not been to Russia," as reporter Rosie Gray quoted him on Twitter. Cohen posted a photo of his passport on his own Twitter account with the hashtag "#FakeNews."
The timing of the appearance of the dossier is significant — following a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday about Russia's campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election and ahead of Trump's planned news conference. Democrats on Tuesday urged the FBI to reveal whether it is conducting any investigation into the Trump camp's connections to Russia, but Comey rebuffed them.
Separately, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., pressed Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee to become attorney general, about what he knew of Trump's dealings with Russia. Sessions said he wasn't aware of any activities and couldn't respond.
The emergence of the dossier, which does not appear to have been generated by an American intelligence agency as it does not contain its standard caveats or guidance about levels of "confidence," is another twist in the sometimes surreal story about Trump's historic political success. Senators and intelligence leaders on Tuesday described the dangers of foreign mischief in the political systems of the U.S. and its allies, and the Trump-Kremlin dossier is a quintessential example.
If it's genuine, it tops what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other top intelligence bosses called an unprecedented spike in Russian meddling inside the U.S. If it's phony, or parts of it are fabricated, it's yet another turn in the hall of mirrors in which American voters have found themselves since Trump exploded onto the political scene.
Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was forced to resign after information became public about his ties to pro-Kremlin leaders in Ukraine, which Putin invaded in 2014. Russian Foreign Ministry officials boasted in the press about their contacts with Trump's camp. Putin sent Trump a telegram after his election congratulating him on his win and reciprocating the overtures he had made about healing the relationship between the two nations.
NPR correspondents Mary Louise Kelly, Carrie Johnson, Sarah McCammon and Tamara Keith contributed to this report.