Russia actively intervened in the 2016 presidential elections to help Donald Trump win the race, not just to sow discord and undermine confidence in US democracy and its unique electoral system, according to US officials citing a secret CIA assessment. The development came hours after President Barack Obama ordered a review of all cyber-attacks that took place during the 2016 election cycle, amid concerns over Russian interference.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior US official who was briefed last week on an intelligence presentation made to US senators told the Washington Post. “That’s the consensus view.”
The US officials who spoke to the Washington Post said that US intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who delivered thousands of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, the Democratic National Convention and others, to Wikileaks.
Intelligence members who briefed the senators last week in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill said the CIA believed it was “quite clear” that Russia’s goal was to get Trump elected.
The CIA presentation was not a formal US assessment by all 17 intelligence agencies, the report emphasized. There were key disagreements between intelligence officials over unanswered questions, including the extent of the ties between the hackers and the Russian government. The actors involved were “one step” removed from the Kremlin, rather than employees, another US official said.
“Intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks,” the Washington Post reported.
The Trump transition team released a statement dismissing the CIA assessment, saying “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
“The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,'” the statement read.
I've never seen anything like this press release. pic.twitter.com/w7OxIUd1bU
— Jim Tankersley (@jimtankersley) December 10, 2016
Trump has repeatedly rejected the intelligence community finding of Russian involvement.
“I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump told Time magazine this week. The hacking “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey,” he said.
Asked whether the intelligence was politicized, Trump answered: “I think so.”
The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration had struggled to respond to the interference by Russia, not wanting to escalate tensions with Moscow or seeming to boost Clinton’s campaign.
But amid growing calls from Congress for more information on the extent of Russian intervention, White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Friday that Obama called for a full review of the hacking.
“We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections and this report will dig into this pattern of malicious cyberactivity timed to our elections, take stock of our defensive capabilities and capture lessons learned to make sure that we brief members of Congress and stakeholders as appropriate,” said Schultz.
Obama wants the report completed before his term ends on January 20, Schultz said.
“We are going to make public as much as we can,” he added. “This is a major priority for the president.”
The move comes after Democrats in Congress pressed the White House to reveal details, to Congress or to the public, of Russian hacking and disinformation in the election.
Confidential emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, a top adviser to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, were steadily leaked out via WikiLeaks in the months before the election, damaging Clinton’s White House effort.
On October 7, one month before the election, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence announced that “the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”
“These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process,” they said.
Worried that Trump will sweep the issue under a rug after his inauguration, seven Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee called on November 29 for the White House to declassify what it knows about Russian interference.
The seven have already been briefed on the classified details, suggesting they believed there is more information that the public should know.
Then on Tuesday of this week, leading House Democrats called on Obama to give members of the entire Congress a classified briefing on Russian interference, from hacking to the spreading of fake news stories to mislead US voters.
Republicans in Congress have also promised hearings into Russian activities once the new administration comes in.
But some have suggested the Democrats are raising the issue out of bitterness over their sweeping electoral defeat.
Schultz denied politics was behind Obama’s order.
“I want to be clear here that this is not an effort to challenge the result of the election,” he said.