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An elaborate hoax based on forged documents escalates the phenomenon of “fake news” and reveals an audience on the left that seems willing to believe virtually any claim that could damage Trump.

In the third week of January, an Israeli named Yoni Ariel flew from Tel Aviv to Rome carrying $9,000 in cash on a secret mission to bring down Donald Trump.

There, he met with an Italian businessman. Seated at a table toward the rear of a café, away from the street where they might attract unwanted attention, Ariel recalled, he handed over the cash. In exchange he was given a copy of a potentially explosive set of documents.

Its 35 pages told the story of a $1.6 billion wire transfer from petroleum giant ExxonMobil to a European office of a Chinese mining company, which a day later transferred 1.4 billion euros to the Trump Organization, the privately held conglomerate founded by President Trump.

The transfers appeared to have taken place in mid-June, at the exact same time that Exxon’s then chief executive, Rex Tillerson, was in St. Petersburg at an economic forum, which Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended. Less than six months later, President-elect Trump — victor in an election that the US intelligence community said the Russian government had interfered with — nominated Tillerson to be his secretary of state.

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