The CIA paid $100,000 last year to a Russian operative who claimed to have derogatory information about President Trump, including a video tape of the Republican engaged with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
If the video showed Trump, it would support claims made in the infamous Steele dossier, the salacious opposition research report financed by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
But U.S. intelligence officials have reason to doubt the veracity of the video and other information about Trump associates provided by the Russian, according to a fascinating report from The New York Times.
According to The Times, American spies made contact with the Russian early last year after he offered to sell the Trump material along with cyber hacking tools that were stolen from the National Security Agency in 2017.
U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that they were so desperate to retrieve those tools that they negotiated with the Russian for months despite several red flags, including indications that he was working in concert with Russian intelligence.
Another red flag was the Russian's financial request. He initially sought $10 million for the information but dropped the asking price to $1 million.
After months of negotiations, American spies handed over $100,000 in cash in a brief case to the Russian during a meeting in Berlin in September.
The Russian also offered documents and emails that purported to implicate other Trump associates, including former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. But The Times viewed the documents and reported that they were mostly information that is already in the public domain.
The Russian, who has ties to organized criminals and money launderers, showed the video purported to be Trump to a Berlin-based American businessman who served as his intermediary to the CIA. But according to the Times, the footage and the location of the viewing raised questions about its authenticity.
The 15-second clip showed two women speaking with a man. It is not clear if the man was Trump, and there was no audio. The Russian also showed the video to his American partner at the Russian embassy in Berlin, a sign that the Russian had ties to Russian intelligence.
According to The Times, the Russian stonewalled the production of the cyber tools, and U.S. officials eventually cut ties. After the payout in Berlin, the man provided information about Trump and his associates of questionable veracity.
Earlier this year, the Americans gave him an ultimatum to either play ball, leave Western Europe, or face criminal charges. He left, according to The Times, which interviewed U.S. officials, the American intermediary and the Russian for its article.
The Times' U.S. sources - who appear to paint the American side in a positive light - said that they were reluctant to purchase information because they did not want to be seen buying dirt on the president.
The officials also expressed concern that the Russian operative was planting disinformation on behalf of the Russian government. U.S. officials were worried that the Russian government has sought to sow discord between U.S. intelligence agencies and Trump. The revelation that the CIA purchased dirt on him would likely do the trick.
The Times report also has other new details.
Four other Russians with ties to the spy world have surfaced over the past year offering to sell dirt on Trump that closely mirrors allegations made in the dossier, according to the article. But officials have reason to believe that some of sellers have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.
The Times also provides new details on Cody Shearer, a notorious operative close to the Clintons. Shearer was recently revealed to have shopped around a so-called "second dossier" prior to the campaign which mirrored the sex allegations of the Steele report.
According to The Times, he has criss-crossed Europe over the past six months in an attempt to find video footage of Trump from the Moscow hotel room.
Shearer claimed to have information from the FSB, Russia's spy service, that a video existed of Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
He shared a memo making the allegations with his friend and fellow Clinton fixer, Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal in turn passed the memo to his friend, Jonathan Winer, a State Department official. Winer then gave the information to Steele who provided it to the FBI in Oct. 2016.
Steele also provided information to Winer, who wrote up a two-page memo that was circulated within the State Department.
Trump has denied allegations that he used prostitutes in Moscow. He has called the dossier a "hoax" and "crap."
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