The chiefs of America’s intelligence agencies last week presented President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump with a summary of reports that Russia had collected compromising information about Mr Trump, US media says.
The salacious allegations were detailed in an appendix to a report on what the CIA, FBI and NSA compiled on what they say were Russian attempts to sway the recent US election (see the appendix here; warning: adult themes).
They are of a kinky sexual nature, and relate to a hotel in Moscow in 2013, when the Trump-controlled Miss Universe pageant was staged in Russia.
The claims, based on a dossier prepared by a former MI6 officer, were first reported by CNN, have not been corroborated and the president-elect reacted angrily as the appendix leaked to the press this afternoon NZT. He deployed all-caps to shout on Twitter:
FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
It made for a dismal comparison with President Obama's final speech, which many saw as uplifting and inspirational.
And if the trio of intelligence agencies have indeed been duped by fake news, and it derailed the Trump presidency, that would be ironic given the role a barrage of fake news stories played in stunting Hilary Clinton's campaign.
While mainstream media The New York Times and the Washington Post were coy about the exact nature of the dirt allegedly held over Mr Trump's head by the Russians, Buzzfeed went to town and a barrage of internet memes soon followed.
And while most US media have labelled the blackmail allegations unverified and generated by Mr Trump's political foes, a BBC correspondent says he asked the CIA about them and was told there was more than one source; that there was audio and video, and that there were incidents in both Moscow and St Petersberg.
ICYMI: BBC correspondent says there's more than one source, more than one tape & more than one date of allegations in Trump intel dossier pic.twitter.com/NQmHeMHDM5
— Alastair Reid (@ajreid) January 11, 2017
It was just another bizarre day in the surreal new era of American politics, which had been begun with Tom Barrack, head planner for Mr Trump's inauguration, promising the event will have a feel of a “soft sensuality."
On more serious notes
Republicans in Congress were thrown into turmoil, or at least contradictory, bumbling statements, after Mr Trump said he expects Obamacare to be replaced within days after he takes office, and that "“the replace[ment] will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.” Republicans in the Senate and House have previously been using the end of the year as a timeline.
And in his final speech as US Trade Representative, Michael Froman said withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership would create a vacuum that China would fill as it draws countries into its own free trade deal.
"There simply is no way to reconcile a get-tough-on-China policy with withdrawing from TPP," Mr Froman said in remarks to the Washington International Trade Association. "That would be the biggest gift any US president could give China, one with broad and deep consequences, economic and strategic."
The president-elect has pledged to issue a formal notice of withdrawal from TPP on 20 January, his first day in office.
The US signed the TPP, but it was never ratified by Congress. US ratification is required for the now-moribund trade deal to come into effect.
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