Senate Panel Releases 'Most Comprehensive' Report On Russia's 2016 Election Interference
By RFE/RL August 18, 2020
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's final report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has concluded the Trump campaign chairman's contacts with Kremlin-linked individuals posed a "grave counterintelligence threat."
The report released on August 18, the fifth and final one from the Republican-led committee, also found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the Democratic Party and the leak of information to damage Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign against then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The Senate panel called the 1,300-page report "the most comprehensive description to date of Russia's activities and the threat they posed," describing Russia as engaged in an "aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election." The bipartisan investigation lasted almost 3 1/2 years.
"Moscow's intent was to harm the Clinton campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process," the report states.
It also found that WikiLeaks played a key role in Russia's effort to influence the election to help Trump, and that the website "very likely knew" it was assisting a Russian influence effort, the committee's report says.
While Russia's GRU military intelligence and Wikileaks released hacked Democratic Party documents, the report found the Trump campaign sought to use the Wikileaks hacks to aid the campaign.
"Staff on the Trump campaign sought advance notice about WikiLeaks releases, created messaging strategies to promote and share the materials in anticipation of and following their release, and encouraged further leaks," the report says.
"The Trump campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort," according to the report.
The panel does not come to a final conclusion about whether there is enough evidence that Trump's campaign coordinated or colluded with Russia, leaving that open to interpretation by Republicans and Democrats.
A group of Republicans on the panel submitted "additional views" to the report saying that it should state more explicitly that Trump's campaign did not coordinate with Russia. But Democrats on the panel submitted their own views, arguing that the report clearly shows such cooperation.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller concluded in a report issued in 2019 that Russia interfered in the election, but that investigation did not charge any Trump associates with conspiring with the Russians.
The Senate investigation also examined issues of interest to Trump that were not explored by Mueller. Those include the FBI's reliance on a dossier of opposition research compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele whose work was financed by Democrats.
Senator Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida), the committee's acting chairman, said in a statement that the committee was troubled that the FBI had been willing to use the dossier "without verifying its methodology or sourcing" as it applied for secret surveillance warrants.
The Senate panel lays out close contacts between Trump associates and the Russians, describing in particular how Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had deep connections to Russia and Russian-aligned oligarchs in Ukraine.
The report notes how for years Manafort worked closely with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian whom the FBI suspects has ties to Russian intelligence. The panel unequivocally states that Kilimnik was a Russian intelligence officer and that Deripaska coordinated with the Russian government to conduct influence operations abroad.
Prior to joining the Trump campaign in March 2016 and continuing throughout his time on the campaign, the report said Manafort directly and indirectly communicated with Kilimnik, Deripaska, and the pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine.
In addition, the panel said Manafort "on numerous occasions" shared campaign information with Kilimnik and that he also discussed a peace plan for eastern Ukraine that benefited Russia.
Even after the election, Manafort coordinated with Kilimnik and other individuals close to Deripaska, "in an effort to undertake activities on their behalf," the panel said.
Among other things, Manafort worked with Kilimnik to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the election, the report says, including spreading the unproven idea of Ukrainian election interference.
"Taken as a whole, Manafort's high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik and associates of Oleg Deripaska, represented a grave counterintelligence threat," the panel said.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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