BuzzFeed is standing by its decision to publish a bombshell document revealing Donald Trump allegations that other news organizations withheld. The website’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith on Tuesday defended publishing a 35-page dossier of allegations Russian spies are said to have collected about the president-elect, saying they wanted to be transparent and “share what we have with our readers.”
“Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice,” Smith wrote in a memo to his staff. “But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”
Several news organizations, including some that had the information since fall, haven’t published the claims until an investigation is complete. The dossier includes allegations that Russian intelligence has long cultivated Trump, that members of his inner circle received intelligence from the Kremlin, and that the president-elect participated in “perverted sexual acts” in Russia.
CNN drew attention to the allegations earlier when it reported how four top U.S. intelligence officials presented President Barack Obama and Trump with a two-page synopsis of the dossier. A former British intelligence operative reportedly compiled the research, which was first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans and later by Democrats.
The decision by top U.S. intelligence agencies to notify the president and president-elect about these claims was clearly newsworthy, even if they remain unconfirmed. CNN acknowledged having reviewed the 35-page compilation of memos, but didn’t publish details because of an ongoing investigation.
When BuzzFeed published the dossier hours later, it noted that the allegations were “under review” and gave “serious reason to doubt the allegations” saying the site was still investigating specific claims.
“Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers,” Smith wrote. “We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.”
Former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apparently referenced the dossier when writing in an October letter to FBI Director James Comey that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.”
Smith is correct that the claims had spread in media circles. The New York Times noted Tuesday night that “details of the reports began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.”
Mother Jones’ David Corn first reported on the allegations in a late October. He wrote that a veteran spy had provided the documents to the FBI, though it was unclear if the bureau was investigating.
Trump, scheduled to hold his first press conference since July on Wednesday, is sure to be asked about the allegations, and is likely trying turning the tables on the news media over one outlet’s decision to publish the claims. His first tweet Tuesday night following BuzzFeed’s story decried “fake news.”
Here’s a copy of the document. Please read at your own discretion.