WASHINGTON ― Russian President Vladimir Putin directed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election with the goal of helping President-elect Donald Trump win, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency concluded in a report released Friday.
Moscow is responsible for cyberattacks directed at the Democratic National Committee, the authors of the report argued. Russian spies gained access to DNC networks in July 2015 and maintained access until at least June 2016, according to the report.
“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the three agencies concluded.
The highly anticipated report is the intelligence community’s strongest expression yet of the charge that Russia was behind the DNC hacks and distributed information from those hacks to the public using various channels. But the report does not provide a complete explanation of how the agencies reached that conclusion. The reason for that, intelligence officials say, is that declassified documents cannot include “specific intelligence and sources and methods.”
Congressional leaders who have access to the classified report seem convinced, though.
There’s now enough evidence to conclude that Russia “clearly tried to meddle in our political system,” Paul Ryan (Wis.), the Republican speaker of the House, said Friday.
“I wish that you could see the entire report,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “Protecting sources and methods is a very high priority for us — but I think maybe the intelligence community in their protecting sources and methods could maybe release a little more information at least to Members of Congress, if not to the public domain.”
Ryan and Pelosi are among the members of Congress who are regularly briefed on classified information.
The CIA and FBI have a high degree of confidence that Putin’s aim was to boost Trump’s chances of winning, while discrediting his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the report. The NSA has a moderate degree of confidence in this assertion, according to the report. Russian intelligence services conducted cyberattacks against targets associated with both the Democratic and Republican parties, the intelligence agencies found.
The 14-page declassified report is part of a longer classified document, which is reportedly over 50 pages long. The report fulfilled an order from the White House last month that tasked the intelligence community with conducting a full review of foreign hacking efforts aimed at disrupting U.S. elections dating back to 2008. The declassified report released Friday focused almost exclusively on the 2016 election.
Friday’s report builds on an Oct. 7 joint statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security. At the time, officials accused Russia of directing the hack, but declined to ascribe a motive to the effort.
Subsequent leaks from the FBI and CIA revealed that officials in both agencies believed the Kremlin was partially motivated by a desire to help Trump. Friday’s report is the latest — and strongest — public expression of that conclusion.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” intelligence officials concluded in the report. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” officials continued.
“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
The election meddling, the intelligence community said, was retaliation for what Putin perceived as U.S. efforts to undermine Russian credibility. Putin viewed the Panama Papers and the Olympic doping scandal as “U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia,” according to the report. Leaking unflattering emails from U.S. officials was an effort to cast America as hypocritical, officials said.
Putin may have had a particular grudge against Clinton because of what he perceives as her role in inciting protests against his government in 2011 and 2012, according to the report. He also publicly praised Trump’s positions on Syria and Ukraine, while criticizing Clinton’s “aggressive rhetoric.”
The Russian president’s attraction to Trump may have stemmed from “positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder,” according to the report.
Trump, who favors closer relations with Moscow, has repeatedly expressed doubt that the Russian government directed the cyberattacks. Hours before a scheduled briefing with intelligence officials on the classified version of the report, Trump told The New York Times that the intense scrutiny of the Russian cyberattacks amounted to a “political witch hunt.”
After being briefed by intelligence officials on the report, Trump suggested that Russia was one of several entities that could have tried to hack U.S. institutions. He also said that the efforts have had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” ― a claim built on his own analysis rather than the findings in the intelligence report.
On Friday evening, Trump tweeted that the “gross negligence” by the DNC was responsible for their servers being hacked.
In two Saturday morning posts, he restated his claim that there was “no evidence” hacking had changed the election result and suggested the only reason it had become an issue was because “the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”
In an apparent effort to push back on the idea that Putin deliberately aided him, Trump said in a statement on Friday that hackers also targeted the Republican National Committee, but failed to breach their server because of superior “hacking defenses.” That’s not what the declassified version of the report indicates. “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign,” the report’s authors wrote. The RNC is not specifically mentioned in the report.
The mix of cyberattacks and propaganda efforts resemble the “multifaceted campaigns” Moscow previously executed in Ukraine in 2014, officials said. The intelligence community assesses that Russia will see its efforts as a “qualified success” and “apply lessons learned … to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”
However, the Kremlin wasn’t always confident Trump was going to win. When polls overwhelmingly predicted a Clinton victory, Russia appeared focused on “undercutting [her] legitimacy and crippling her presidency from its start, including by impugning the fairness of the election,” intelligence officials found.
Russian diplomats were preparing to question the election results if Clinton won, according to the report. Pro-Kremlin bloggers even had a hashtag ready: #DemocracyRIP.
Nick Baumann and Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting. This post has been updated with additional details from the intelligence report.
Read the full declassified report below:
This article has been updated to include Trump’s comments on the intelligence report findings.