Senate Intel report confirms Russia aimed to help Trump in 2016

Senators and committee aides examined everything from the sources and methods used for the intelligence-gathering, to the Kremlin’s actions itself. The 158-page report is heavily redacted, with dozens of pages blacked out entirely. But its final conclusions were unambiguous.

“The committee found no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusions,” Burr said in a statement, adding that the intelligence community’s conclusions reflect “strong tradecraft” and “sound analytical reasoning.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, praised the intelligence agencies’ “unbiased and professional work,” and warned that there was “no reason to doubt that the Russians’ success in 2016 is leading them to try again in 2020.”

The panel’s findings are in line with a previously issued bipartisan statement in which Senate Intelligence leaders endorsed the January 2017 assessment by the clandestine community. The newest conclusions come in the fourth of five reports the committee is releasing on Moscow’s interference in the 2016 campaign. The committee last month approved the report unanimously.

The report devotes “additional attention” to the disagreements among some intelligence agencies about the Russian government’s intentions in meddling in the 2016 campaign. The report states that “the analytic disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts.”

It also notes that the committee interviewed officials involved in drafting the January 2017 assessment, which came out days before Trump’s inauguration, and states that they were not subject to political pressure.

The January 2017 assessment found that “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. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

Notably, according to the Senate’s report, the initial assessment did not include information from or citations based on former British spy Christopher Steele’s unverified dossier of claims about Trump’s relationship with Russia. It noted that the FBI’s senior leadership insisted, though, that the dossier be mentioned in an annex. The Steele dossier is expected to be addressed in the committee’s fifth and final report.

Beyond its possible political impact, the report represents a confidence-booster to the country’s intelligence community at a time of great uncertainty.

Trump has openly criticized the intelligence community’s work, both as a presidential candidate and as commander in chief. His fury has only intensified since its inspector general alerted Congress last year of a whistleblower complaint regarding the president’s posture toward Ukraine, a process that resulted in his impeachment.

The president is still rejecting intelligence officials’ more recent warnings — delivered to lawmakers last month — that Russia is interfering in this year’s election and that Moscow has a preference for Trump.

In February, the president replaced acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who previously had not served in any U.S. intelligence agency. The change set off more personnel moves that prompted fears among career clandestine officials of a widespread loyalty purge — a suspicion that was heightened earlier this month when Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, who had first alerted the congressional intelligence committees about the whistleblower complaint.

The latest report from the Senate panel is a bipartisan endorsement of a conclusion that had been called into question by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. The GOP lawmakers said in their own report in 2018 that the intelligence agencies failed to employ proper “tradecraft” when officials concluded Russia came to support Trump’s candidacy.

The Senate panel’s fifth and final installment in its exhaustive review of the 2016 interference is in the “editing stages,” a committee spokesperson said. The final product is expected to be around 950 pages long, according to sources familiar with the matter.

That report will focus on the counterintelligence aspects of the government’s Russia investigation, including allegations that Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russian operatives. Former special counsel Robert Mueller said last year that his probe “did not establish” such coordination.

The exact timing of the final release remains in flux with committee aides largely working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. The panel’s work is almost exclusively conducted in a sensitive classified facility on Capitol Hill.

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