By Katie Bo Williams
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a widespread influence campaign intended to help elect Donald Trump, the intelligence community said in a declassified report released Friday afternoon.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report reads. “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The bombshell document details the intelligence community’s findings but provides little in the way of forensic evidence backing up its assessment, citing the need to protect sources and methods.
“While the conclusions in the report are all reflected in the classified assessment, the declassified report does not and cannot include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence and sources and methods,” the report reads. The document is made up of publicly available information, painting a portrait of Moscow as making a shrewd decision to back a candidate it saw as friendlier to its interests.
According to the document, Putin “most likely” wanted to discredit Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, because “he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” But the former KGB agent saw Trump as having “Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine” and approved of his stated policy to work with Russia.
Moscow also reportedly saw the election of Trump as “a way to achieve an international counterterrorism coalition” against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Officials note that Putin publicly contrasted the president-elect’s approach to Russia with Clinton’s “aggressive rhetoric” — but the report offers no previously unknown information.
There is some level of minor disagreement among intelligence agencies as to the strength of its judgment that Russia intended to help Trump. The CIA and FBI have high confidence in the judgment, while the National Security Agency has moderate confidence, the report acknowledges. The report — devoid of a “smoking gun” — is unlikely to silence skeptics who are unconvinced that the intelligence community can prove Russia’s motivations.
Trump has repeatedly refused to accept the community’s conclusions and has treated its assessment as an attack on the legitimacy of his presidency. The president-elect has instead focused on the intelligence community’s long-public assessment that no physical voting machines were impacted by the Russian campaign. After receiving a briefing from senior intelligence officials earlier on Friday, Trump issued a statement claiming that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”
Prominent Republicans echoed the approach following the release of the report. “We must also be clear that there is no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process,” House Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.) said in a statement. “We cannot allow partisans to exploit this report in an attempt to delegitimize the president-elect’s victory. Donald Trump won this election fair and square because he heard the voices of Americans who felt forgotten.”
Russian intelligence did obtain access to multiple state and local electoral boards, according to the report, but the Department of Homeland Security assessed that none of the systems the hackers targeted or compromised were involved in vote tallying. Democrats immediately pushed back on the assertion that the campaign had no impact on the election.
“It is one thing to say that there was no tampering with vote tallying — which is true — it is another thing to say that the daily dumping of documents disparaging to Secretary Clinton that was made possible by Russian cyber operations had no effect on the campaigns,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Whether [Russia] had a decisive impact on the outcome will never be known and was certainly not the subject of the intelligence community’s analysis, but that they were of great consequence is undeniable.”
— Joe Uchill contributed.
Source: The Hill