WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee, rejecting doubts conveyed by President Trump as recently as last week, has become the latest body to officially conclude that the Russian government conducted a wide-ranging campaign — including cyberattacks — to influence the 2016 presidential election.
An unclassified seven-page report, released by the committee Tuesday with full bipartisan support, was based on an extensive, year-and-a-half-long investigation into the U.S. intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment that the Kremlin carried out its campaign in part for the purpose of promoting Trump’s candidacy and discrediting Hillary Clinton.
The committee’s conclusion: The assessment, which had been ordered by President Obama, is a “sound intelligence product” that was prepared by analysts who “were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions” and was based on a “range of all-source reporting,” albeit much of it still classified.
The panel’s findings are hardly a surprise. All of those who have reviewed the January 2017 intelligence community assessment — including the most senior officials of the Trump administration — have endorsed the conclusions that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and undertook a wide variety of other measures to interfere in the U.S. election.
The only outlier continues to be the president who, in a tweet written shortly after the announcement he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this month at a summit in Helsinki, once again cast doubt on the findings of his own government.
…. “Russia continues to say they had nothing to with meddling in our Election!” Trump tweeted on June 28.
Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2018
In his tweet, he went on to raise questions about the failure of the FBI under former Director James Comey (“Shady James Comey” he called him) to take possession of the DNC’s server and then asked: “Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption.”
Whether the new report by the Senate Intelligence Committee will make any dent in the president’s view of the matter seems doubtful, in the view of one top Russia expert. “Are you kidding?” replied John Sipher, a former deputy chief of the CIA’s Russian operations division. “You think he’s going to listen to the senators any more than he’ll listen to his own intelligence community?”
The committee, in a press release about the report, emphasized the extent of its inquiry into the issue and the bipartisan nature of its findings. “The committee has spent the last 16 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work underpinning the Intelligence Community Assessment and sees no reason to dispute the conclusions,” said Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman. Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chair, called the intelligence community findings “accurate and on point,” adding that the Russian effort was “extensive and sophisticated.” Indeed, the committee said that it has learned about new intelligence and analysis that has strengthened the case against the Kremlin’s election meddling, including additional information about Russia’s attempts to infiltrate state election systems and manipulate social media platforms.
But the report still is likely to frustrate those looking for additional insights into the classified intelligence that led to the intelligence community’s original findings. The committee’s report provides no insights into the sourcing for the January 2017 document, saying that will be discussed in a classified report, portions of which the panel hopes can be publicly released at a later date.
The disclosure on Tuesday is the second publicly released report growing out of the decision in January 2017 to launch a full-scale investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any possible links to the Trump campaign. Its findings about alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, clearly the most controversial part of its inquiry, won’t be released for months. What remains unclear is whether the panel will be able reach a bipartisan consensus on that issue. But the new seven-page report did include a brief reference to the role that the so-called dossier, prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele and alleging extensive collusion between Trump and Russia, played in the intelligence community assessment. The dossier, the committee report said, “did not in any way” inform the intelligence community assessment “because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.”
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