Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign targeting the 2016 U.S. presidential election to undermine confidence in American democracy, smear Hillary Clinton and, eventually, to help lift Donald Trump to victory, according to a declassified report from U.S. intelligence agencies.
The document, based on information and analysis from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency, spells out the U.S. spy agencies’ conclusions on what they say was Russia’s wide-ranging venture to interfere in the American vote.
“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the report said.
Many of the report’s key points are already known, having been outlined in press reports in recent weeks and addressed directly by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. on Thursday in testimony to Congress.
The report said Putin and his government developed a “clear preference” for Trump over time. Putin aspired to boost Trump’s chances to win when possible, the report said, by discrediting Clinton “and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
In addition to the hacking of U.S. political institutions and officials, which resulted in Russia passing stolen emails to WikiLeaks for publication, Moscow’s efforts also included a broader effort to influence American public opinion, the report concluded.
“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’” the report said.
The document pointed to the RT television network, which is supported by the Russian government, and its anti-American programming as part of Moscow’s broader messaging campaign.
The Kremlin efforts did not, however, change vote tallies, according to the assessment.
Looking ahead, the report said Russia will apply lessons it learned from its operations “to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.”
President Barack Obama was briefed Thursday on the full classified report, which includes greater detail and evidence to support the agencies’ conclusions. On Friday, the so-called Gang of Eight in Congress — House speaker, Senate majority leader, minority leaders in both chambers and the top Republicans and Democrats on the intelligence committees — received their briefing on it as well.
“These conclusions are well-supported by the evidence and the report should put to rest any uncertainty as to Russian responsibility for this unprecedented interference in our internal affairs,” said California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence panel.
Top intelligence officials briefed Trump in New York on their report Friday afternoon, hours before the declassified version was released.
The president-elect has repeatedly rejected the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic Party institutions and officials. He has also gone so far as to mock the work of the nation’s spies and intelligence analysts.
That bitter public dispute, which many experts say is unprecedented in presidential transitions, set the stage for what was expected to be a difficult meeting at Trump Tower in New York.
After the briefing, Trump released a statement in which he tried to ease the tensions in his relationship with the nation’s intelligence professionals, saying he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”
He did not, however, directly address the report on Russia and the assessment that Moscow meddled in the race. Instead, he sought to emphasize that despite the consistent attempts to hack U.S. government institutions and businesses, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was not tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”