Washington: Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the 2016 hacking of Democratic Party accounts and the release of emails intended to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in the final report of its Russia probe, which also found no evidence that President Donald Trump colluded with Moscow.
“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president,” the bipartisan panel wrote in the report, which was released Tuesday. “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 committee’s three-year probe found numerous contacts between Trump associates and Russians or people with ties to the Russian government, as well as efforts by Trump to take advantage of the leaks politically. But several Republicans wrote that the committee “did not find evidence of collusion between President Trump and the Russians.”
The report, however, called former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s presence on the team a “grave counterintelligence threat.”
Manafort “created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the report said. The committee was particularly concerned about Manafort’s sharing of information with people it says were affiliated with Russian intelligence services and associates of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
That includes the sharing of polling information and campaign strategy with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the committee calls a Russian intelligence officer.
The report also lays out in detail evidence about Trump’s secret pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow deal in 2015 and 2016 during his presidential campaign via his personal attorney, Michael Cohen — something the committee believes Putin almost certainly was aware of — and Donald Trump Jr.’s efforts to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton from Russians at a 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
‘Access Hollywood’ response
The report also details the Trump campaign’s efforts via Roger Stone to get advance knowledge of future leaks of Democratic emails via Wikileaks.
The timing of those leaks would have a major impact at a key moment during the campaign, coming just after the early October 2016 release of an “Access Hollywood” tape featuring Trump using vulgar language about women.
Stone, who the committee found had advance knowledge that the tape would be coming out, told an associate, Jerome Corsi, that he “wanted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle” and later Stone told him to have WikiLeaks “drop the Podesta emails immediately,” per Corsi. John Podesta was Clinton’s campaign chairman.
The committee also found that Trump “did, in fact, speak with Stone about Wikileaks and with members of his campaign about Stone’s access to Wikileaks on multiple occasions” despite Trump’s written testimony to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that he didn’t recall such discussions.
Stone also drafted a series of suggested pro-Russia tweets for Trump, sending them to one of his assistants saying they were requested by Trump himself.
One of the suggested tweets was: “I want a new detente with Russia under Putin.” Trump didn’t send that tweet.
Trump has since commuted Stone’s sentence for seven federal felonies, including lying to Congress to protect the president, witness tampering and obstruction.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the panel, said the report, which involved sorting through millions of documents and hundreds of witness interviews, revealed “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives.”
“This cannot happen again,” he said in a statement. “As we head into the heat of the 2020 campaign season, I strongly urge campaigns, the executive branch, Congress and the American people to heed the lessons of this report in order to protect our democracy.”
A group of Democratic senators, including presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, presented their own views in an annex to the report suggesting that the findings do amount to collusion.
They particularly focused on Manafort’s sharing of data with Kilimnik and then repeatedly lying to federal investigators about it afterward.
“The Committee obtained some information suggesting that the Russian intelligence officer, with whom Manafort had a longstanding relationship, may have been connected to the GRU’s hack-and-leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election. This is what collusion looks like,” they wrote.
Russia has long denied interfering in the U.S. election.
Republicans emphasized the lack of evidence of collusion by Trump and criticism of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its use of the salacious “Steele dossier” in its investigation, while warning that threats continue from Russia and other countries, including China and Iran, ahead of November.
“The committee found absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election,” said acting Chairman Marco Rubio.
Rubio said the evidence of Russian meddling was “irrefutable,” but he also dinged the FBI for “their acceptance and willingness to rely on the ‘Steele Dossier’ without verifying its methodology or sourcing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “politicians must take special care not to fall prey to foreign influence efforts, amplify disinformation, or politicize our adversaries’ attacks on us” and said the goal of the foreign efforts is to sow division. –Bloomberg