CIA Report: Russia Acted To Help Trump Win The Election
New information raises serious questions about the integrity of the 2016 elections, and about Donald Trump and his supporters.
A secret CIA assessment delivered to Members of Congress this week concludes that Russia was trying to help Trump win the Presidential election, The Washington Post is reporting:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.4
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.
Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking.
“I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said in a television interview that the “Russian government is not the source.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have been cautious for months in characterizing Russia’s motivations, reflecting the United States’ long-standing struggle to collect reliable intelligence on President Vladimir Putin and those closest to him.
In previous assessments, the CIA and other intelligence agencies told the White House and congressional leaders that they believed Moscow’s aim was to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system. The assessments stopped short of saying the goal was to help elect Trump.
On Oct. 7, the intelligence community officially accused Moscow of seeking to interfere in the election through the hacking of “political organizations.” Though the statement never specified which party, it was clear that officials were referring to cyber-intrusions into the computers of the DNC and other Democratic groups and individuals.
The New York Times reports that one of the reasons that intelligence officials believe that Russia was acting to help Trump is that the fact that material that may have been stolen from hacks of the Republican National Committee were never released:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.
They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.
In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.
Republicans have a different explanation for why no documents from their networks were ever released. Over the past several months, officials from the Republican committee have consistently said that their networks were not compromised, asserting that only the accounts of individual Republicans were attacked. On Friday, a senior committee official said he had no comment.
Mr. Trump’s transition office issued a statement Friday evening reflecting the deep divisions that emerged between his campaign and the intelligence agencies over Russian meddling in the election. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement said. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
One senior government official, who had been briefed on an F.B.I. investigation into the matter, said that while there were attempts to penetrate the Republican committee’s systems, they were not successful.
But the intelligence agencies’ conclusions that the hacking efforts were successful, which have been presented to President Obama and other senior officials, add a complex wrinkle to the question of what the Kremlin’s evolving objectives were in intervening in the American presidential election.
“We now have high confidence that they hacked the D.N.C. and the R.N.C., and conspicuously released no documents” from the Republican organization, one senior administration official said, referring to the Russians.
It is unclear how many files were stolen from the Republican committee; in some cases, investigators never get a clear picture. It is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.
The Russians were as surprised as everyone else at Mr. Trump’s victory, intelligence officials said. Had Mrs. Clinton won, they believe, emails stolen from the Democratic committee and from senior members of her campaign could have been used to undercut her legitimacy. The intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia tried to help Mr. Trump was first reported by The Washington Post.
The Trump campaign is dismissing the allegations of Russian intervention, as are many Republicans:
In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.
And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”
The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election, a move that they argued would only rattle public confidence and play into Moscow’s hands.
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment. After the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, as his nominee for transportation secretary.
It’s important to note what this report isn’t saying, and why that means that further investigation is absolutely necessary. There doesn’t appear to be any allegation that the Russians sought to actually disrupt the election process itself in terms of hacking into voting or vote-reporting systems in the way that many election officials across the country feared might happen in the weeks before Election Day. Instead, what we’re largely talking about here was a cyber-hacking operation that involved stealing data from the DNC and RNC and selectively releasing it in an effort to undermine the Clinton campaign and aid the Trump campaign. In the end, it was a propaganda campaign rather than a direct effort to hack the election itself. Notwithstanding that qualification, though, the fact that a foreign power may have been involved in attempting to influence an American Presidential election is a serious one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the fact that it is a clearly adversarial foreign power at that makes that point even stronger.
Despite this fact, Republicans in general, and the Trump campaign in particular, are dismissing the allegations almost in their entirety, including the allegation that the RNC was hacked into despite multiple reports that this did in fact happen. On some level, one assumes that the denials are part of an effort to protect their win in the Presidential election from being questioned, but the reality is that there’s pretty much nothing that can be done at this point to stop the final certification of Trump’s victory. The Electoral College will meet a week from Monday to take the formal vote(s) that will give Trump his victory and the results of that vote will be officially certified when the new Congress convenes in January. Even if the reports that were released last night were confirmed, it would have no real impact on the process or on Trump’s Inauguration on January 20th. Donald Trump is going to be President, and there’s nothing that’s going to change that. Even after that becomes final, though, the allegations regarding foreign interference will remain, and the need to investigate them will remain just as urgent as they are today. Instead of recognizing that urgency, though, this morning Republicans appear to be reacting to this report by dismissing it, seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the intelligence community that it originates from, and attacking the messengers and those who are daring to ask questions.
At the very least, these allegations demand investigations by both houses of Congress. These investigations should be conducted not just by the Intelligence Committees for the two bodies but also by other committees and the hearings should be as open to the public as possible given the fact that much of what might be discussed will likely be classified information that can only be discussed behind closed doors. The integrity of the election process demands nothing less at this point, and for Republicans to attempt to sweep this matter under the rug is both highly irresponsible and shocking given the fact that it has been the right that has been the most vocal about the dangers that Russia poses in recent years. If they don’t do this, then Republicans will show that they have indeed sold their souls to Donald Trump in exchange for power, and that they are putting their party before their country.