The top Senate committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has concluded that the Russian efforts were intended to favor Donald Trump, contradicting the president’s assertions and the conclusions of an earlier report from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
In a seven-page summary of findings released Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee — which is running the last remaining bipartisan congressional inquiry into Russian interference — endorsed a January 2017 intelligence community assessment that found the Russian meddling was intended to help Trump and hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“The overall judgments issued in the ICA were well-supported and the tradecraft was strong,” the Senate committee found. The document “is a sound intelligence product," the panel said.
The committee also concluded that a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele played no role in influencing the intelligence community’s January 2017 findings.
“All individuals the committee interviewed verified that the dossier did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA — including the key findings — because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting,” the committee’s summary said. It promised that its final report would include a section on the dossier and how it was "handled" by the government.
The Senate committee’s conclusions undercut Republican efforts to question the underpinnings of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. In April, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee issued a report that specifically questioned the intelligence community’s claim that Putin “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” arguing that the intelligence community “did not employ proper analytic tradecraft.”
But the Senate committee, which is led by Republican Sen. Richard Burr, found the opposite, saying that the January 2017 assessment “provided a range of all-source reporting to support” the assessment that Russia preferred Trump and sought to “denigrate” Clinton.
“The ICA relies on public Russian leadership commentary, Russian state media reports, public examples of where Russian interests would have aligned with candidates' policy statements, and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump,” the committee’s summary reads.
Trump also has been a frequent critic of the January 2017 intelligence assessment, repeatedly calling investigations into Russian interference “hoaxes” and echoing Russia’s defense against accusations of foreign meddling.
“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!” Trump tweeted last week.
In another subtle rebuke to the president — who has called the Russia matter a politically motivated “witch hunt” — the committee said that in interviews with those who wrote the assessment, it “heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions” and that “[a]ll analysts expressed that they were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper for the analytic process.”
The committee also agreed with the intelligence community that Russian interference in the 2016 election “demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”
Moreover, the committee said that since the intelligence community published the assessment, the panel “has seen additional examples of Russia's attempts to sow discord, undermine democratic institutions, and interfere in U.S. elections and those of our allies.”
The committee took issue with the section of the ICA that deals with Russian propaganda, however. “The ICA provides a summary of Russian state media operations in 2012 and notes that RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik are coordinated Russian state platforms,” the summary report says. “The ICA fails to provide an updated assessment of this capability in 2016, which the Committee finds to be a shortcoming in the ICA, as this information was available in open source.”
The committee said that it “reviewed thousands of pages of source documents and conducted interviews with all the relevant parties including agency heads, managers, and line analysts” to come to its conclusions about the January 2017 assessment.
“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,” Burr said in a statement.
“The ICA findings were accurate and on point,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chair, said. “The Russian effort was extensive and sophisticated, and its goals were to undermine public faith in the democratic process, to hurt Secretary Clinton and to help Donald Trump. While our investigation remains ongoing, we have to learn from 2016 and do more to protect ourselves from attacks in 2018 and beyond.”
Tuesday’s summary report is part of a rolling series of smaller reports on different elements of the committee’s Russia investigation, with a final comprehensive report to come in the months ahead.