Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help elect Trump, Republican-led report concludes

The bipartisan report undercuts years of claims from Trump and GOP allies that the Russia probe was a partisan hoax

Published April 22, 2020 12:30PM (EDT)

U.S. President Donald Trump and  Russian President Vladimir Putin (Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images/ AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images/ AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Republican-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a report Tuesday concurring with the intelligence community assessment (ICA) that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to help elect now President Donald Trump.

The bipartisan report undermines years of unsubstantiated accusations from Trump and GOP allies that the Russia probe was a partisan "hoax." It is the fourth of five volumes in the committee's ongoing three-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The committee's analysis of the ICA found "specific intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian government demonstrated a preference for candidate Trump."

Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R- N.C., in a joint press release with his Democratic counterpart Mark Warner of Virginia, said, "The committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community's conclusions."

Warner added that the ICA "correctly found the Russians interfered in our 2016 election to hurt Secretary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump."

Burr said the 2017 assessment exhibited "strong tradecraft" and "sound analytical reasoning"  an explicit rebuke of the then-Republican House Intelligence Committee's 2018 assessment that the ICA "did not employ proper analytic tradecraft."

The report also pushes back on GOP accusations that intelligence officials were under political pressure to produce conclusions that would hurt Trump.

"In all the interviews of those who drafted and prepared the ICA, the committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach specific conclusions," the report said. "All analysts expressed that they were free to debate, object to content and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper for the analytic process."

Attorney General William Barr commissioned a special investigation last year into the origins of the Russia investigation, including an inquiry into the intelligence community's 2017 assessment. Republicans have alleged that officials, acting on bias and political pressure, inflated Russia's desire for a Trump victory. The bipartisan report goes some distance towards thwarting such accusations, pointing out that any disagreement among intelligence officials was "reasonable, transparent and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level reasonably justifying their positions."

However, a Trump administration review classified substantial portions of the report — some full sections — lavishing black ink on passages about the Russian government's intentions and motivations for electing Trump.

The committee also examined how the intelligence committee applied information from the much maligned Steele dossier. While parts of it appear in a classified annex, it "was not used in the body of the ICA or to support any of its analytic judgments,"  the senators wrote.

Burr said in a statement that "one of the ICA's most important conclusions was that Russia's aggressive interference efforts should be considered 'the new normal.'" That warning, he said, has held true, both of Russia and "its imitators" alike.

"With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it's more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors," the GOP leader said.

Burr has found himself the subject of a DOJ investigation in recent weeks amid allegations that he used inside intelligence information to guide investment decisions before the public was keen to the true threat of a coronavirus outbreak.

The FBI reached out to Burr as it probes controversial stock trades the senator made after receiving non-public briefings about the impending coronavirus pandemic A legal expert told Salon that those transactions "have the whiff of insider trading and of betrayal of the public trust — not to mention the public's health." A lawyer for Burr told CNN that her client "welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate."

The Senate criticized the ICA for taking too thin a look at the role state-owned platforms like RT and Sputnik played in the 2016 interference efforts, saying such an inquiry "would have strengthened the ICA's examination of Russia's use of propaganda."

The final volume in the committee's investigation addresses possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government and is expected to be released in the upcoming months. The New York Times reports that an approved but unredacted draft runs more than 900 pages

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Elections Politics Putin Republicans Richard Burr Russia Trump