U.S. intelligence report says Putin targeted presidential election to ‘harm’ Hillary Clinton’s chances
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an aggressive “influence campaign” that ultimately aimed at helping Donald Trump win the White House, according to a U.S. intelligence report released Friday less than an hour after Trump appeared to challenge its findings.
Putin both “aspired to help” Trump in November and to “harm” his rival, Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the report conclu
Russia’s goals “were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” it states. “We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
They “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton,” it says.
The 14 pages, part of a longer still-classified report prepared by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, makes a largely circumstantial case rather than provides hard evidence of Putin’s involvement, citing a mix of cyberattacks, state-funded media, fake news and propaganda efforts.
Trump was briefed on the full report earlier Friday.
But Trump wasn’t convinced.
After four U.S. intelligence chiefs tried to persuade the skeptical president elect that Russian intelligence agencies had tried to tip the November election in his favor, Trump announced that the computer hacking had had “absolutely no effect.”
In a statement, Trump did not acknowledge that Russia was any different from any other country or group that has sought to penetrate U.S. computer networks, or that it had hacked computers and then leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee and other targets, as U.S. intelligence officials claim.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said following the classified briefing in Trump Tower in New York.
U.S. officials previously have said that the Russian operation did not extend to actual voting.
Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the intelligence community in recent weeks, called the meeting “constructive” and said he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”
He said the U.S. needs to “aggressively combat and stop” cyberattacks, and he would order a team to create a plan to do so within the first three months of taking office.
In addition, Trump said hackers tried but failed to infiltrate Republican National Committee computers.
“There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful,” Trump said.
For more than an hour, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, CIA Director John O. Brennan, FBI Director James B. Comey, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, walked Trump through evidence in a newly completed classified report that includes analysis of Russia’s motivations — including whether the operation was partly intended to help elect Trump, as U.S. officials have said privately.
Obama ordered the interagency review after Trump repeatedly rejected and mocked statements by U.S. intelligence officials about Russia’s role.
Intelligence officials briefed congressional leaders Friday morning on the completed classified report, which was given to Obama on Thursday.
“It was really quite a stunning disclosure,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said after the briefing.
She said she thinks an independent commission, similar to the panel that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks, should investigate Russia’s attempt to influence the U.S. political process.
“Did it affect the Clinton campaign? Of course it did. Would it have come out differently? I don’t know,” Pelosi said.
Trump was joined in the briefing by members of his national security team: Rep. Michael Pompeo, his pick for CIA director; Reince Priebus, who will be White House chief of staff; Michael T. Flynn, who will be national security advisor; K.T. McFarland, his pick for deputy national security advisor; and Tom Bossert, who Trump tapped as his homeland security advisor.
Congress will continue to probe Russia’s interference in the 2016 election in coming months.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked Clapper, Brennan, Rogers and Comey to testify on Russia’s intelligence activities in a hearing Tuesday, committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced Friday.
Earlier this week, Trump suggested intelligence officials had delayed his briefing until Friday in order to build a stronger case against Russia. U.S. officials denied any delays, saying they wanted to wait until the report was complete.
Trump once again questioned Russia’s role in the hacks on Thursday night, writing in Twitter about a news report that said the FBI did not examine the Democratic National Committee computers after the hack and instead relied on an analysis by a private security firm.
“The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia,” Trump wrote.
“So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?” he wrote.
The FBI has a longstanding policy of restraint when it comes to accessing the files of U.S. political parties out of concern it would be blamed for interfering in the political process, officials said.