Reid, who has sharply criticized FBI Director James Comey for sitting on intelligence connecting Russian operatives and the Trump campaign, said he was unsure if Trump himself was aware of the activity. But he said people in Trump’s orbit certainly were.
“Someone in the Trump campaign organization was in on the deal. I have no doubt. Now, whether they told [Trump] or not, I don’t know. I assume they did. But there is no question about that,” Reid said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “So there is collusion there, clearly.”
“Don’t put blindfolds on,” he said. “Here is the deal: We have a situation where during the campaign, especially the last few months of the campaign, WikiLeaks was heavily involved in trying to hurt Hillary Clinton and it helped Trump. And you have Trump who said he likes Putin better than he likes Obama.”
A spokesperson for WikiLeaks rejected Reid’s charge in a statement to The Huffington Post, saying, “WikiLeaks is an independent media organization entirely funded by its readers. The statement is false. Congress should start an immediate inquiry into the interference by the CIA in US domestic politics.”
In an interview with Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” that aired Monday, President Barack Obama made a claim similar to Reid’s. “You had what was very clear relationships between members of the president-elect’s campaign team and Russians, and a professed shared view on a bunch of issues,” Obama said.
A request for comment to the Trump campaign was not returned.
Speaking from a side office on Capitol Hill just days before he leaves the Senate after almost 30 years, Reid said that if members of the Electoral College got the same briefings from intelligence agencies regarding Russia’s role in the campaign, they would think twice about supporting him on Dec. 19, when electors cast their ballots.
“What I say to somebody that is pledged to Donald Trump is, ‘Be fair. Be fair,’” Reid said. “This is a tremendous responsibility that you have to do the right thing.”
Though the likelihood of electors rejecting Trump is remote (even Reid conceded that Trump would be the next president though he also said the Electoral College system should be abolished) the revelations of Russia’s interference have added another cryptic element to the election. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded Russia took concrete actions to aid Trump’s campaign. Trump immediately denied the charge and attacked the CIA for its record during the runup to the Iraq War. But Obama called for a full review before he leaves office, while Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta asked for electors to be briefed before their vote next week.
That the CIA’s assessment became public only after the election is a source of immense frustration to Democrats, who argue that a revelation before the vote may have swung the contest for Clinton. Reid claimed that during a pre-election briefing with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, both he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to get Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Paul Ryan (Wis.), the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, respectively, to sign a joint letter asking for the connection to be made public.
“We thought it would be better if it came from all four of us,” he said. When McConnell and Ryan demurred, “we tried to change the letter a few times,” Reid said, to no avail.
Reid declined to speculate on McConnell’s motives, but The Washington Post reported that McConnell raised doubts about the intelligence and warned that publicizing any allegations of Russian intervention would have resulted in a partisan fight.
“I came to the point where [I realized] it didn’t matter what we said, they aren’t going to sign the letter,” Reid said.
McConnell’s office noted that the four leaders did sign a letter to the National Association of State Election Directors encouraging them to protect their resources from hacking.
With McConnell now signaling his support for an investigation into the extent of Russia’s interference, Reid warned against well-disguised attempts to simply drag the issue out.
“Having been around here a long time, if you want to slow something down, turn it over to committees,” Reid said. “What would happen is it would go to Armed Services or Intelligence [committees]. I don’t know where else it would go. By then, months and months have gone by. So I think my Democratic colleagues, after the first of the year, if they see they are getting stalled on this, may want to have a special prosecutor or at least a select committee.”
Ultimately, Reid didn’t accuse Russia of tipping the election for Trump. That honor he gave to Comey. His decision to announce and then close a further investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email account in the closing days of the race, cost the Democratic Party the White House and several Senate seats, Reid said. He revealed that he had written Comey a request in August to look into the possibility of Russia’s involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee and, potentially, infiltrating election systems in various states. The FBI ultimately concluded that Russia wasn’t trying to favor Trump but, rather, sow seeds of doubt about American democracy.
When Comey announced his investigation into Clinton’s emails in late October, Reid sent him a blistering letter alluding to the Russian intrusion.
“Obviously, what I didn’t know ... was that Comey was a front for the Republican Party,” Reid said.
This post has been updated with Obama’s comments to Trevor Noah.
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