Bipartisan Senate report backs intel community assessment that Russia interfered in 2016 US election

National

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Getty Images)

A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee released on Tuesday has backed the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election to help then-candidate Donald Trump.

The committee’s findings in its report on the Obama administration’s assessment on Russian election interference are at odds with House Intelligence Committee Republicans, who raised issues in 2018 with the assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to help Trump. The Senate report also rebuts Trump’s frequent claims that it was a “hoax” that Russia was trying to help him win.

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said in a statement that the assessment reflected “strong tradecraft” and “sound analytical reasoning.”

“The Committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community’s conclusions,” Burr said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russian election interference began more than three years ago. The committee has released four volumes and is finishing work on the final chapter that will include the committee’s investigation into contacts between members of Trump’s team and Russian officials.

That volume is in its final editing stages, according to a source familiar with the matter, and is currently around 950 pages, including footnotes but not appendices.

Trump has distrusted the intelligence community since he took office, and the intelligence community assessment released days before he was sworn in is a major factor. Trump has frequently dismissed Russian election interference as a “hoax” and the investigations into Russian collusion as a witch hunt.

But the committee warned that the intelligence community assessment provided an important conclusion that “Russia’s aggressive interference efforts should be considered ‘the new normal.'”

“There is certainly no reason to doubt that the Russians’ success in 2016 is leading them to try again in 2020, and we must not be caught unprepared,” Sen. Mark Warner, the panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement.

The committee also addressed the allegations contained in the opposition research dossier written by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, which Republicans have pointed to in an effort to discredit the FBI and special counsel investigations into Trump and Russia. The panel found that the “information provided by Christopher Steele to FBI was not used in the body of the intelligence community assessment or to support any of its analytic judgments.”

The report explains there was a debate over what to do with the Steele material, which the FBI had been provided. The decision was made to include a two-page annex to the classified version of the assessment, which was briefed to the President-elect by then-FBI Director James Comey in January 2017.

The committee interviewed senior officials in the Obama administration involved with the assessment, as well as the officials who helped put it together. Every witness interviewed, the committee said, saw “no attempts or pressure to politicize the findings.”

The report itself is heavily redacted, with entire sections remaining classified, including much of the detailing of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was trying to help Trump.

In the section on Putin ordering the campaign to influence the US election, a single line is unredacted: “The Committee found that reporting from multiple intelligence disciplines was used as evidence to support this analytic line, and that the analytic tradecraft was transparent.”

The Intelligence Committee report explains there was a difference in confidence levels on that assessment between the CIA and FBI, which had “high confidence,” and the National Security Agency, which had “moderate confidence.”

“The Committee finds that the analytic disagreement was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers, and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level reasonably justifying their positions,” the report says.

By Jeremy Herb and Zachary Cohen, CNN

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