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BuzzFeed just published ‘explosive’ documents alleging Trump’s ties to Russia

So that “Americans can make up their own minds.”

President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Meetings At Trump Tower Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

BuzzFeed has published a cache of documents, allegedly compiled by a former British intelligence agent, that claim Donald Trump and his associates have deep ties to Russian spies, and that Russia has “compromising information” about the U.S. president-elect.

The digital publisher posted the documents roughly an hour after CNN reported on their existence.

BuzzFeed describes the contents of the documents as “specific, unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians.”

CNN reported that both Trump and President Barack Obama received a summary of the reports last week, but that other government officials, including Sen. John McCain and FBI Director James Comey, had seen all of the memos.

CNN said it wouldn’t report on the details of the documents “at this point ... as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

That didn’t stop BuzzFeed.

“Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government,” the publisher said in the short story accompanying the memos.

I asked BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith whether he had discussed publishing the memos with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti or anyone else at the company, but he wouldn’t respond to that line of questioning. “I’m not going to talk to you about newsroom conversations,” he said.

But Smith did offer an extended rationale for publishing the documents: “The elected representatives of the American people are making discussions or public allegations based on [the memos], and we didn’t see any reason why the American people shouldn’t see it themselves.”

Here’s a longer version, which he distributed to his staff tonight:

BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the memos puts it outside, at least for now, of norms observed by more traditional news outlets.

The New York Times, in a brief story published this evening, suggested that it had also heard of the reports, which “began circulating in the fall and were widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington.” But the Times didn’t discuss the content of the reports and said “it has not been able to confirm the claims.”

Unlike the Times, CNN and many other big journalism organizations, BuzzFeed isn’t part of a larger media company and isn’t publicly traded. But Comcast’s NBCUniversal* has invested $400 million into the publisher, which has begun floating the idea of going public.

* NBCUniversal has also invested in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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