Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Republican Donald Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, US intelligence agencies said in an assessment on Friday.
Russia’s objectives were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate former secretary of state Clinton, make it harder for her to win and harm her presidency if she did, an unclassified report released by the top US intelligence agency said.
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” the report said. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”
The report, although it omitted classified details, was the US government’s starkest public description of what it says was an unprecedented Russian campaign to manipulate the American body politic.
Reports of Russian interference in the already divisive election have roiled Washington, even as the US Congress on Friday certified Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.
The report neither assessed “the impact Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election” nor did it provide details on the evidence underpinning its conclusions, a fact likely to keep alive the controversy over what Moscow may have done. Russia denies the US government’s allegations of hacking during the election campaign.
The report said US intelligence agencies believe Russian military intelligence, the GRU, used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and the Guccifer 2.0 “persona” to release e-mails that it had acquired from the Democratic National Committee and top Democrats as part of the effort.
The release of the e-mails led to embarrassing media coverage for Clinton and triggered the resignation of the DNC’s chief.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he did not receive e-mails stolen from the DNC and top Clinton aide John Podesta from “a state party.” However, Assange did not rule out the possibility that he got the material from a third party.
Russian actors were not found to have targeted US systems that are involved in tallying votes, the report said. The report was produced by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.
Also on Friday, the US Department of Homeland Security designated US election infrastructure as critical infrastructure, widening the options the government has to protect voting machines from cybertattacks.
While the report found Russia had conducted cybertattacks on both the Democratic and the Republican parties, it made clear that the primary aims were to harm Clinton whether or not she won the election and evolved over time.
“When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency,” it said.
“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,” it said. The CIA and FBI had high confidence in this judgment and NSA moderate confidence, the report said.
The report suggested Putin was motivated in part by personal animus toward Clinton.
The report’s conclusions, though lacking details of how the Russians may have relayed the material to Wikileaks and others, will give ammunition to Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress who want tougher action against Russia, setting the scene for a potential showdown with Trump.
Trump, who has developed a rocky relationship with US spy agencies and at times disparaged their work, defended the legitimacy of his election victory after receiving a nearly two-hour briefing Friday on the report.
In a statement, Trump did not squarely address whether he was told of the agencies’ belief Russia carried out the hacking.
Instead, he said: “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations” including the DNC.
“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.—Reuters