Republican-led review confirms intelligence findings on Russian interference


WASHINGTON – For years President Trump The assessment of American intelligence officials scoffed at that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to support his candidacy, dismissing it without evidence as the work of a “deep state” bent on undermining his victory.

But on Tuesday, a long-awaited Senate review led by members of Mr Trump’s own party effectively disproved those allegations. A three-year review by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee found it unanimous the intelligence ratingblaming Russia and setting out its goals to undermine American democracy was fundamentally solid and unsullied by politics.

“The ICA reflects strong craftsmanship, sound analytical reasoning, and adequate justification of disagreements in the one analytical line in which they arose,” Senator said Richard M Burr, Republican of North Carolina and Chairman of the Panel. “The committee found no reason to challenge the intelligence agencies’ conclusions.”

The endorsement by Mr. Burr’s committee comes at a pivotal moment for the intelligence community. Not only has Mr. Trump installed a loyalist in the top spy position in recent months, but Attorney General William P. Barr has also approved a comprehensive review of possible wrongdoing by investigators investigating the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, apparently including the work of secret service agents.

The federal attorney Mr. Barr appointed to review the government’s response Russian election interferenceJohn H Durham, examined whether the CIA or other intelligence agencies overestimated President Vladimir V. Putin’s support for the Trump campaign, a key finding of the 2017 assessment. His team interviewed intelligence analysts and asked whether Obama-era intelligence officials were hiding evidence or analysis about rigged Moscow’s covert operations, people familiar with the Durham investigation said.

Some of Mr. Trump’s allies immediately criticized the Senate report; Fred Fleitz, a former CIA officer who briefly served in the Trump administration, dismissed it as “a whitewash.” Many Republicans believe the intelligence community has overstated Russia’s support for Mr. Trump, arguing that Moscow was trying to sow chaos in the United States and did not support any candidate.

The report, released on Tuesday, was the latest in an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into the broader Russia matter. Senators are expected to release a final chapter in the coming months examining contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

When the probe began in early 2017, it was one of the most closely followed in Congressional history and cast a cloud over Mr Trump’s presidency that could not be dismissed as merely partisan. But Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the same issue is long overdue; an impeachment fight about a largely independent matter behind the country; and a pandemic that is altering almost every aspect of life, the Russia probe has now largely become an afterthought for most Americans.

However, the Senate Intelligence Committee had already given the work of the CIA and FBI a tentative stamp of approval the 158-page report released on Tuesday presented new details about the government’s attempts in late 2016 and early 2017 to understand Russia’s attacks. Much of the report’s content was deemed highly sensitive and redacted by the Trump administration before publication.

In their report, the senators essentially said they asked the same questions Mr. Durham is now investigating, noting that the intelligence community’s work held up, even if done in a compressed time frame, to be completed before President Barack Obama left office in January 2017.

“The case is closed,” said Sen. Angus King, Independent of Maine. “I don’t know how you could have a much more credible source than a three-year study by a bipartisan committee that came to a unanimous conclusion.”

Critics of the assessment focused on the fact that the National Security Agency had a lower level of confidence in the conclusion that Mr Putin supported Mr Trump’s election than did the CIA and FBI. Mr. Durham, they believe, can provide evidence.

However, the committee found that the different levels of trust between the intelligence agencies were “justified and adequately represented”. The report states that both John O. Brennan, then Director of the CIA, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, then-director of the National Security Agency, both “have independently stated to the committee that they reached the final wording openly and with sufficient exchange of views.”

The senators said their investigation found that intelligence analysts who worked on the assessment “were not under any politically motivated pressure to reach specific conclusions.”

“All analysts stated that they are free to discuss, object to content, and rate levels of confidence as is normal and appropriate to the analysis process,” the report reads.

It also investigated the ingestion of material from a well-known dossier put together by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, to whom the FBI referred code name “crown”, shows alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia. The document contained uncorroborated, salacious allegations against Mr. Trump and has come under the focus of Mr. Trump’s allies, who have tried to square it with the Justice Department’s much broader investigation into Russia’s election interference.

Although elements of the dossier were included in an intelligence assessment appendix, it “was not used on the ICA board or to support any of its analytical judgments,” the senators noted.

Even the decision to add it to the appendix was made reluctantly, the senators wrote. The FBI would not vouch for its accuracy, but felt that because Mr. Obama had ordered the assessment to include all relevant materials, his direction required the dossier to be included.

The Senate report opposed this the 2018 conclusions of the House Intelligence Committee, then under Republican control, which in its own report on Russian election interference challenged intelligence officials’ conclusion that Mr Putin was trying to harm Hillary Clinton and help Mr Trump. The House committee cited glitches in the “proper analytical craft,” but many House Republicans involved later disagreed with that conclusion.

Previous volumes released by the Senate committee chronicled Russia’s active campaign of measures to meddle in the 2016 election, outlining potential policy measures to deter future attacks on voting infrastructure, examining the use of social media to sow political divisions in the United States, and criticized the response of the Obama administration and Congress on the attacks by Russia in the run-up to the last presidential election.

The committee is expected to publish a final bipartisan issue in the coming months, assessing possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. A draft is over 900 pages long, but has yet to be submitted to intelligence agencies for classification review, a process that can take weeks or months.

The results likely reflect those in The Mueller Report. His team documented extensive contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, including Mr. Trump’s team’s willingness to accept Russian support during the election, but concluded it had insufficient evidence to charge a campaign official with conspiracy.

More recently, Mr Burr, who has been slow to move forward with his bipartisan investigation despite calls from Mr Trump for it to be disbanded, has gone under intensive review for a decision to liquidate a large part of his equity portfolio in February before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged financial markets. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department have taken preliminary steps to investigate whether the sales were based on non-public information Mr. Burr received from the Intelligence Committee or through other Senate work, a possible violation of the law.

Noting that Russia has continued to seek to interfere in American politics, Mr Burr said warnings from three years ago still need to be heeded.

“Russia and its imitators are increasingly using information warfare to sow societal chaos and discord,” Mr Burr said. “With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it is more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, agreed, warning that Russia’s success in 2016 would embolden the Kremlin to continue meddling in American democracy.

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