The adversarial relationship the press is supposed to have with those in power was virtually absent during former President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House. But news outlets have more than made up for it under President Donald Trump.
In fact, according to newly released memos, even former FBI Director James Comey knew CNN, which has been particularly dogged in its reporting on the Trump administration, was ready to pounce on the billionaire politician at any moment.
Comey explained in documents declassified Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice that he felt it important to talk privately with the president-elect in early January because several media outlets — CNN, in particular — were planning to report on the infamous Steele dossier, which was littered with salacious and uncorroborated allegations involving Trump.
“I said media like CNN had [the dossier] and were looking for a news hook,” Comey wrote in the memo following his private briefing with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017. He continued:
I said it was important we not give them the excuse to write that the FBI has the material or [redacted] and that we were keeping it very close-hold. [Trump] said he couldn’t believe [CNN] hadn’t gone with it. I said it was inflammatory stuff that they would get killed for reporting straight up from the source reports.
But just a few days after the clandestine meeting, CNN published a story revealing the existence of the dossier, which claimed the Russian government had compromising information about the incoming U.S. president.
Consequently, it was Comey’s meeting with Trump and a separate briefing with Obama that served as the “news hook” for CNN’s story.
The collection of documents, 35 pages in total, was written by former British spy Christopher Steele and ultimately published in full by BuzzFeed News.
In a meeting on Jan. 28, 2017, just days after Trump’s inauguration, Comey explained again to the president why he briefed him on the dossier. The former FBI chief wrote, “One of the reasons we told him was that the media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it.”
What remains unclear, though, is how exactly CNN reporters got their hands on the details of Comey’s closed-door meeting with Trump.
It’s worth noting, however, that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to a GOP-led memo released in March by the House Intelligence Committee, “provided inconsistent testimony to the committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.”
And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) believes it was, in fact, Clapper who leaked the details of the January 2017 meeting between Trump and Comey, which prompted the series of media reports about the Steele dossier.
“Someone at CNN got information,” Jordan said in March. “We think it was Mr. Clapper who gave it to them.”