Former CIA chief: Every attempt likely made to verify unsubstantiated claims against Trump

Leon Panetta on Trump's intelligence briefing
Leon Panetta on Trump's intelligence briefing

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Leon Panetta on Trump's intelligence briefing 01:57

(CNN)Former CIA director Leon Panetta said Thursday he believes the intelligence community made every possible attempt to verify unsubstantiated claims that Russia may have compromising information on President-elect Donald Trump.

In an interview on CNN's "Erin Burnett Outfront," Panetta said "I would assume that they made every effort to try to substantiate and corroborate that information."
"So, my sense is that they made the effort, they were unable to do it, but because it was so sensitive, they felt an obligation to present it to the key players," he said.
CNN first reported that the nation's top intelligence chiefs provided both the President and President-elect a two-page written synopsis of the claims, which came from a 35-page report compiled by a former British intelligence operative based on Russian sources. Intelligence agencies appended a two-page summary of the unverified allegations to documents prepared for the briefing on Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Multiple US officials briefed on the matter told CNN on Thursday that FBI Director James Comey and Trump had a brief one-on-one conversation at last Friday's intelligence briefing.
It's during that pull aside that Comey briefed the President-elect on the two-page synopsis of the claims about Trump and Russia. All four intelligence chiefs had decided that Comey would be the one who would handle the sensitive discussion with the President-elect.
The discussion was described by the sources as cordial.
The FBI declined to comment on this account.
The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats. At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.
Panetta defended still including the information in briefings, saying, "The reason I think it was included, Erin, is because it's very sensitive information, even though it's unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. The fact is that it is extremely sensitive and I think the problem is that the intelligence agencies would have felt that they would be at fault if they didn't bring that to the attention of the principals."
He added that "this is what happens in intelligence briefings" and "it's important to bring it to the attention of the key people so that they know this information is out there."
Panetta would not say whether or not he believes the unsubstantiated claims yet, adding "I think this is the kind of report that really does require that you got to look at a number of different sources to see whether or not it really is true."