A group of anti-Trump liberals and Democratic operatives were tricked into paying thousands of dollars for documents that made explosive claims about President Donald Trump, but turned out to be forgeries.
Buzzfeed learned of the documents' existence when the operatives tried to sell them on the story. Supposedly, the documents showed $1.6 billion being transferred from ExxonMobil to a Chinese mining company and then finally to the Trump Organization during the 2016 election. The purported transfers would have taken place at the same time eventual Exxon Mobil CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was meeting with Vladimir Putin in Russia.
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None of it was true. Anti-Trump activist Brett Kimberlin fronted the $9,000 for the documents which were provided by an alleged Italian scam artist, and passed them along to Democratic operatives. Kimberlin, now a liberal blogger, was convicted of a 1978 Indiana bombing spree that eventually led a maimed victim to commit suicide.
But the documents were "rife with spelling and grammatical errors," Buzzfeed noted, at odd with what one would expect from a $340 billion multinational company like Exxon. Among the more blatant errors, the documents falsely identified the president of the Chinese company as its CEO and misspelled his name. The bank statements that came with the documents also contained clear errors, such as getting the full name of ExxonMobil incorrect.
In addition to Buzzfeed, the groups of Democratic operatives shopped the documents to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg, all of whom passed. The story was eventually picked up in February by the liberal blog Down With Tyranny, citing "pretty heavy duty, well-sourced rumors."