President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is rejecting claims that an explosive but unverified report accusing Trump of salacious activity was discussed at a briefing with intelligence officials last week.
Priebus called the report, which accuses Trump of being fully aware of and supporting Russian hacking into government servers during the election, “phony baloney” and “total garbage.”
The outgoing head of the Republican National Committee said on the “Today” show Wednesday that he was present at last week’s briefing and the report never came up.
“What I can tell you is that I was there and these crazy accusations ... were never discussed,” he told hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira.
Trump said during a press conference Wednesday that his meeting with intelligence leaders last week was “confidential” and he wouldn’t comment on what was discussed, though he said he did read the reports containing the allegations at some point after the meeting.
“It’s all fake news. It didn’t happen,” Trump said about the memo. “It was a group of opponents that got together ― sick people ― and they put that crap together.”
A senior U.S. official with knowledge of the meeting said a summary of the unverified reports was given to the intelligence leaders for added context, but never discussed during the briefing, according to a Wednesday NBC News report.
Priebus said Wednesday that BuzzFeed’s controversial publication of the unsubstantiated 35-page dossier, which also alleges Trump engaged in sexual acts with Russian prostitutes in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton, was the first time he had heard of the allegations.
“This is not an intelligence document,” Priebus said, citing the “handwritten page numbers in the corners” of the report as “proof.”
Priebus sidestepped questions from Lauer and Vieira on whether Trump or anyone in his campaign staff had conversations with Russia during the election. Instead, he chose to focus on the report’s claims that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen held a secret meeting in Prague with Kremlin representatives in August.
“I told [Cohen] to give me his passport,” Priebus said. “Here’s what I can tell you ... I looked at the passport page by page, it was verified that this person wasn’t in Prague.”
Trump tweeted Tuesday that the allegations were a “total political witch hunt.” He echoed the Kremlin’s repudiation of the reports on Wednesday, tweeting that he has “nothing to do” with Russia.
CNN reported Tuesday that intelligence leadership briefed both Trump and President Barack Obama last week about the controversial memo, which was written by a former British spy hired to conduct opposition research on Trump.
Leaders from the CIA, FBI, NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were able to confirm to Trump last Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the initiative to tip the election in his favor. The briefing expanded on an Oct. 7 joint report from intelligence officials that fingered Russia for hacking into Democratic National Committee servers during the election.
FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that Russia did not successfully collect information from Trump’s campaign and only gained “limited access” to the Republican National Committee.
Obama issued sanctions against Russia last month in light of the attacks. The president ordered 35 Russian diplomats to be expelled from the United States and barred Russian intelligence officers from conducting business with American companies or individuals.
Trump brushed off Russia’s unprecedented meddling in the U.S. election on Twitter last week, choosing to blame the DNC for “allowing” the hacking to take place instead.
The president-elect’s tweets suggest he isn’t bothered by Putin’s cyberattacks against the U.S. because he isn’t convinced they had an effect on the election results.
This article has been updated with more background information on the Russian hacking scandal and Trump’s comments.