Moscow says claims that Russia has harmful information on president-elect are false and aimed at damaging ties with US.
As the United States says farewell to Barack Obama’s scandal-free term in office, it quivers at the incoming scandal-ridden Trump presidency before it has even started.
The latest controversy may yet prove to be the most damning, if any of the allegations are substantiated.
It goes beyond accusations of groping women, tax evasion and fraternising with white supremacists. It touches on US national security and speaks to the politicisation in highest echelons of the intelligence community.
Does Russia have something on the incoming president? Does he know it? Is that why he’s been eerily schmoozing Vladimir Putin with unmatched passion, while dismissing all 17 US intelligence agencies’ claims about Russia’s hacking and interference in US elections?
For several months, Trump seemed to have something negative to say about every politician, except Putin, whom he called, a nice, smart and competent guy and even better leader than the US president.
So is it all just coincidental or is there more to it than meets the eye?
Here’s what we “know”
A former British MI6 intelligence officer, let’s call him JB, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s, was hired by certain Republican and Democratic rivals of Donald Trump to dig for dirt about his Russia dealings.
Towards the end of his search, JB provided an unsolicited, but damning, report about Trump to the FBI, which was appended to a report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections.
It speaks of Russian attempts to sway Trump with business deals and secret information about his potential political rivals. And it expresses the suspicion that Russia might have embarrassing or even damning “personal and financial” information about Trump.
There are also allegations, again unsubstantiated, that the Russians have dirt on him from the time he hosted The Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in Nov 2013. Pornographic stuff.
And finally, it alludes to direct contacts between Trump advisors and certain Russians connected to the Putin regime during the campaign.
A Moscow-based British diplomat has reportedly briefed Senator John McCain about the full extent of the controversy. He, in turn, sent an emissary to London to grab the report. The senator then handed it to FBI director, James Comey, in person on December 9.
Since then, the Republican leadership in Congress has vetoed McCain’s call for a special senate select committee to investigate the Russian interference in the US elections.
But the affair has snowballed after all four chiefs of the main intelligence agencies briefed both Obama and Trump about the potentially damning Russian role. Leaks to the media blew it out of proportion after the entire report was posted by Buzzfeed, on its website, so that American can “decide for themselves”. Other media outlets refused to give credence to the report without further evidence.
Adding to the mystery
JB, the British secret service agent, whose identity remains unknown, is recognised by US intelligence circles to be a credible source. He is said to have delivered reliable information over the years.
But FBI director ignored the reports on Russia-Trump connection and instead focused on what he termed “potentially explosive” information about the Clinton emails.
To Democrats’ consternation, Comey went public with the Clinton controversy a week before the elections, but remained quiet about the Trump-Russia affair.
Nothing came out of the FBI investigation of the Clinton emails, which many argue led to her defeat. This may, or may not, be true. But it’s more likely if the British report became public before November 8, that it could’ve diminished Trump’s chances of winning.
Could this have something to do with the fact the Comey was a registered Republican before he was confirmed as FBI director in 2013? Did his politics prejudice his professional judgment? Or is the report no more than “fake news”?
The jury is split.
From Russia with love, only
Only time will tell how much credence, if any, there is to the British reports from Moscow and whether JB is no less fictional than James Bond in the British thriller, “From Russia With Love”.
It’s possible that Trump has made too many enemies over the past two or more years, some powerless, others more powerful and may want to get back at him.
His derisive and insulting attacks against his own fellow Republicans, such as John McCain or the other presidential candidates, may come back to haunt him now that he needs them most.
Trump’s recent ridicule of the “intelligence” community over the Russian hacking is yet to boomerang. Last week, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that Trump’s questioning the legitimacy or the intelligence community is “dumb”, and suggested they will “get back at him” for it.
Have they, indeed? Have they, or their mates across the Atlantic, manufactured these reports to get back at him, or merely highlighted them before it’s too late, to get back at him?
Well, some of the damage to Trump is already done. There’s so much suspicion out there about the incoming president that he will not able to pal around with Putin without raising even deep suspicion.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.