WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that top intelligence leaders told him and President Barack Obama they felt obligated to inform them about uncorroborated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump out of concern the information would become public and catch them off-guard.
In an interview with The Associated Press and other news outlets, Biden said neither he nor Obama asked U.S. intelligence agencies to try to corroborate the unverified claims that Russia had obtained compromising sexual and financial allegations about Trump.
"I think it's something that obviously the agency thinks they have to track down," Biden said. He added later, "It surprised me in that it made it to the point where the agency, the FBI thought they had to pursue it."
Biden said that in the briefing he and Obama received from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, there were "no conclusions drawn" from the uncorroborated dossier, produced in August and then released publicly this week by the media. Biden said it was "totally ancillary" to the purpose of the meeting, which was to brief Obama on a report he ordered documenting Russian interference in the U.S. campaign.
"As a matter of fact, the president was like, 'What does this have anything to do with anything?'" Biden said. He said intelligence leaders responded by saying "Well, we feel obliged to tell you, Mr. President, because you may hear about it. We're going to tell him," referring to Trump.
Biden said intelligence leaders told him and Obama that they couldn't say whether or not the allegations were true or untrue. He said there was "hardly any discussion" about the allegations in the briefing.
"Neither the president nor I asked for any detail," Biden said.
Trump has vehemently denied the allegations included in a dossier about close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians. The dossier also included unsubstantiated claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump, attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated the claims. Trump has denied them.
The FBI director has refused to say whether the FBI is investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign.
The dossier was compiled by a former Western intelligence operative and had been circulating among news organizations and intelligence agencies in Washington for months. Its existence became known publicly after it was reported that Trump had been briefed by the intelligence community about the dossier.
In the interview, Biden was sharply critical of Trump for disparaging the U.S. intelligence community, refusing daily intelligence briefings and downplaying the importance of the intelligence a president receives.
"It's an extremely valuable tool," Biden said. "I think he'll come to understand that. If he doesn't, it would be a tragedy for the interests of the country— I mean a genuine tragedy."
He said intelligence information was particularly important for "a president who has no exposure whatsoever," though he insisted it was not a criticism, but "a reality."
The vice president took umbrage at Trump's comments accusing intelligence agencies of allowing the information to leak publicly and drawing a comparison to "living in Nazi Germany."
"The one thing you never want to invoke is Nazi Germany, no matter what the circumstances," Biden said. "It's an overwhelming diversion from the point you're trying to make."