Much has been made this week of reports that the Clinton campaign paid for the so-called “dossier” about Trump that was compiled by a former British intelligence agent. One important point is sometimes lost in the discussion. The dossier itself played absolutely no role in the coordinated intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in our election. That assessment, which was released in unclassified form in January but which contained much more detail in the classified version that has been briefed to Congress, was based entirely on other sources and analysis.
It’s true that then President-elect Trump was briefed on the allegations in the dossier. This was not, however, because the intelligence community had relied on it in any way, or even made any determination that the information it contained was reliable and accurate. Rather, after considerable thought and discussion, DNI Clapper and the heads of the FBI, CIA and NSA decided that because the dossier was circulating among Members of Congress and the media, it was important to warn the President-elect of its existence. Imagine his anger—which would have been fully justified—if the document had leaked, and he learned that U.S. government agencies knew of it and did not warn him.
The Russian efforts to influence our election are an important crisis for our democracy. The salacious allegations in the “dossier” are a mere sideshow that should not distract from a comprehensive investigation of that crisis.