Senate Intelligence Committee releases final report on 2016 Russian interference
Washington — A nearly 1,000-page report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday documented a broad set of links and interactions between Russian government operatives and members of the 2016 Trump campaign, adding new details and dimensions to the account laid out last year by special counsel Robert Mueller and raising counterintelligence concerns about certain Russian efforts that may have persisted into the 2020 election season.
Tuesday's report was the committee's final, and long-awaited, chapter in its more than three-year investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference, marking the conclusion of what was held up as the last and arguably only bipartisan congressional investigation into the matter. Spanning 966 pages, it concluded, as have other assessments of Russia's efforts, that Moscow "engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election."
The report, redacted in parts, detailed extensive contacts between Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked closely with Manafort for years. The report labeled Kilimnik a "Russian intelligence officer," and said Manafort, for reasons the committee could not determine, sought on numerous occasions to "secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik." It also said the committee obtained "some information" linking Kilimnik to Russian intelligence services' efforts to hack and leak information to damage Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Overall, the report said, Manafort's proximity to then-candidate Trump "created opportunities for the Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign." Manafort's willingness to share information with Kilimnik and other Russian operatives, it said, "represented a grave counterintelligence threat."
Manafort was sentenced last March to a seven-year prison term for fraud charges that stemmed from the special counsel's investigation, though he was released to home confinement amid concerns over the coronavirus.
The report also documented, in intricate detail, interactions between Trump associate Roger Stone and WikLleaks — which was at the time still considered a "journalistic entity" by the U.S. government rather than a hostile organization, the report noted — as WikiLeaks released concertedly timed, hacked documents that were intended to be damaging to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
"WikiLeaks actively sought, and played, a key role in the Russian influence campaign and very likely knew it was assisting a Russian intelligence influence effort," the report said. "Trump and senior Campaign officials sought to obtain advance information about WikiLeaks's planned releases through Roger Stone."
It said Mr. Trump "directed" campaign officials to stay in touch with Stone, who also made numerous phone calls to Mr. Trump personally throughout the spring of 2016, according to the report. Its authors described the Trump campaign as being "elated" by the news of WikiLeaks' planned releases, noting its senior officials appeared largely "indifferent to the significance of acquiring, promoting, or disseminating materials from a Russian intelligence services hack-and-leak campaign."
Stone was convicted in November of seven felony charges that stemmed from Mueller's investigation, and sentenced to 40 months in prison. Mr. Trump commuted Stone's sentence last month. In written answers provided to the special counsel, Mr. Trump denied having a recollection of conversations about WikiLeaks with Stone.
The report also offered new details on a series of other interactions it identified as raising counterintelligence concerns. It said the Russian operatives present at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which was attended by Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, had "significant connections" to the Russian government and its intelligence services. It noted other, lower-level campaign aides like George Papadopoulos — while not determined to have been a "witting co-optee" of Russian intelligence — nonetheless presented a "prime intelligence target and potential vector for malign Russian influence." And, it said, Russia "took advantage" of the Trump transition team's relative inexperience and stated desire to deepen ties with Moscow in order to establish "unofficial channels" through which to conduct diplomacy.
"The existence of a cadre of informal advisors to the Transition Team with varying levels of access to the President-elect and varying awareness of foreign affairs presented attractive targets for foreign influence, creating notable counterintelligence vulnerabilities," the report said.
The committee's investigation was almost completely staff-led and involved interviews with hundreds of witnesses, including some overseas, and the review of more than a million pages of documents. It stood out in contrast to other congressional probes, including one led by the House Intelligence Committee, that wound up marred by leaks, partisan infighting, and politically divided conclusions.
Unlike the Mueller report, the Senate's volume explicitly avoided questions of criminality or the application of a standard of proof required by trials. Investigators said they referred any instances of potential criminal behavior to law enforcement while seeking to deliver "a factual record" to the American people about Russian interference in 2016.
Released in April 2019, the Mueller report documented extensive interactions between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian operatives, but did not find that a criminal conspiracy existed between them. Six former Trump campaign associates were either indicted or convicted of crimes — mainly for lying to investigators — and more than two dozen Russian operatives were charged by the special counsel for engaging in election interference. Overall, Mueller's report resulted in 37 indictments or guilty pleas.
The Senate committee's report itself does not offer any meaningful treatment of, or explicit conclusion regarding, the subject of "collusion," a legally nebulous, politically charged term that once saw wide use. But the committee's acting chairman, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, said in an accompanying statement that the panel's investigators "found absolutely no evidence" that the Trump campaign "colluded" with the Russians. He said the committee did find "irrefutable evidence of Russian meddling."
The Trump campaign, in a statement, likewise declared the report showed "no collusion" while decrying the "Russia Collusion Hoax" as "the greatest political scandal in the history of this country."
Senator Mark Warner, the committee's vice chairman, avoided references to "collusion" but said the report details "a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections."
"This cannot happen again," the Virginia Democrat said. "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."
In additional views appended to the report, other Democrats on the panel said the report "unambiguously shows that members of the Trump Campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected," and, pointing specifically to Manafort's interactions with Kilimnik, said "this is what collusion looks like."
Committee Republicans — apart from the former chairman, Richard Burr, who did not sign on — said in their addendum that "the Russian government inappropriately meddled in our 2016 general election in many ways but then-Candidate Trump was not complicit." They also harshly criticized the FBI for "sloppy work and poor judgment," principally for its handling of information contained in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
While the Senate committee's report covers much of the same territory as Mueller's investigation, it is nearly five times as long as the comparable portion of the special counsel's report. In a rare, wide-ranging interview in 2019, Burr told CBS News he believed the committee had interviewed several witnesses outside of the scope of Mueller's inquiry.
"I think it's safe to say we've interviewed people that I don't even know if the special counsel knows about them," Burr said at the time. The Republican from North Carolina stepped aside from the chairmanship in May amid an investigation into his stock trades.
On Tuesday, Burr said the threat of Russian interference in U.S. elections is "ongoing."
"One of the Committee's most important — and overlooked — findings is that much of Russia's activities weren't related to producing a specific electoral outcome, but attempted to undermine our faith in the democratic process itself," he said in a statement. "Their aim is to sow chaos, discord, and distrust. Their efforts are not limited to elections."
The volume's release comes on the heels of an unprecedented warning from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia's election interference efforts have continued into 2020, and that Moscow is actively seeking to "denigrate" the candidacy of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. China and Iran, which the intelligence community has assessed prefer Mr. Trump not win reelection, are also considering taking action aimed at the election.
In a section containing its recommendations, the committee's report urged the FBI to provide defensive briefings to "all presidential campaigns," which, it said, should themselves "perform thorough vetting of staff, particularly those staff who have responsibilities that entail interacting with foreign governments."
It also said campaigns should "notify [the] FBI of all foreign offers of assistance, and all staff should be made aware of this expectation."
Monday's release also comes as a separate probe led by U.S. Attorney John Durham — which focuses on the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign's connections to Russia as well as, controversially, some of the intelligence community's analytic work on Russia's actions — is said to be nearing its final stages. A source familiar with Durham's review confirmed former CIA Director John Brennan would likely be interviewed Friday, a detail first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The Senate Intelligence Committee previously released four volumes of its final product. The first focused on election security and was made public in July 2019. It was followed by a second, released in October 2019, on the coordinated campaign Russia waged on social media. The third evaluated the Obama administration's response to Russia's efforts. And the fourth, released in April, evaluated the intelligence community's 2017 assessment of Russia's election interference and found the work to be "coherent and well-constructed."
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