President-elect Donald Trump was not told about unverified reports that Russia has compromising information on him during last week's intelligence briefing, according to a senior intelligence official with knowledge of preparations for the briefing.
A summary of the unverified reports was prepared as background material for the briefing, but not discussed during the meeting, the official said. During Trump's press conference Wednesday morning, the president-elect said he was made aware of the information "outside that meeting."
A 35-page memorandum published by BuzzFeed on Tuesday includes claims that the Russian government has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for five years — even obtaining compromising information in an effort to blackmail him. (BuzzFeed is partially funded by the parent company of NBC News.) The document, which was not prepared by the U.S. government, contains obvious errors. It was originally generated as part of opposition research by anti-Trump Republicans and then shopped by Democrats.
Two U.S. officials told NBC News that materials prepared for Trump in advance of last week's intelligence briefing included damaging allegations from the memorandum — unverified by American intelligence agencies — about his dealings with the Russians.
Officials prepared a two-page summary of the memo for Trump's briefing Friday at Trump Tower in New York. The summary was an "annex," or addendum, included in the "supporting documents" that accompanied the classified briefing report.
While multiple officials say the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were left with the Trump team in New York. During the briefing, the president-elect was not briefed on the contents of the summary.
“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.
According to the senior official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”
The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not orally shared with Trump.
The Russian government on Wednesday denied reports that it has compromising information about Trump, dismissing the claims as a "total hoax."
Amid increased interest in the dossier Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected all of the allegations out of hand. Trump later blamed intelligence agencies for allowing the dossier to leak, tweeting: "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
"The Kremlin does not have compromising information about Trump," Peskov said, according to Russian state-run news agency TASS. "It's a total hoax, absolute fabrication and utter nonsense. The Kremlin does not collect compromising information."
Peskov also called the reports "pulp fiction."
Trump did not respond to the reports directly but sent a tweet appearing to refer to it on Tuesday night.
Early Wednesday, he sent several others that followed Peskov's comments.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt over findings by American intelligence officials that Russia interfered in the U.S. election with the aim of helping him win.
NBC News reported last week that the gulf between Trump and U.S. intelligence agencies had grown so wide that the two camps couldn't even agree on the scheduled date of a briefing Trump had been due to receive.
Peskov mentioned Trump's initial tweet, and went on to say that some people were “boosting the hysteria and go to any lengths to maintain this state of 'witch hunting.'”
Michael McFaul, who was ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, told NBC News he was sure Russian officials were "thrilled" to see Americans bickering about the leaked memo. "It doesn't make us look like we are a healthy democracy."
McFaul also said that Trump had contributed to an atmosphere in which "fake news" could flourish because of his past promotion of the unfounded "birther" conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama's birthplace.
In an interview with NBC News before his farewell address Tuesday night in Chicago, Obama said he had not seen the news accounts of Trump's Russian ties but noted that "as a matter of principle and national security, I don't comment on classified information."
Last month, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats as punishment for Russia's alleged cyberattacks in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.
The CIA has concluded that the interference was intended to help Trump win, and intelligence officials told NBC News that they believe "with a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the covert campaign.
Trump has been skeptical about the alleged Russian hacks, even as he repeatedly praised Putin.