Russia perpetrated a sweeping influence campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and wanted President Donald Trump to prevail over Democrat Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified on Wednesday.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, asked Mueller at his hearing on Wednesday if the Russian government “perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning.”
Mueller confirmed that they did.
“Which candidate would that be?” Lofgren asked.
“Well, it would be Trump,” Mueller said.
Mueller’s statement is not a bombshell since the U.S. intelligence community — including the FBI, CIA, and NSA — announced they had reached a similar conclusion in 2017.
But Mueller’s old boss, Attorney General William Barr, appears to have contested whether Russia wanted to help Trump win the 2016 election and has ordered Justice Department agents to investigate whether the CIA was appropriate to conclude as such in 2017.
Trump himself has variably confirmed and denied that the Russian government interfered in the election at all.
At a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last summer, Trump would not say whether Russia had interfered.
Asked whether he believed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the man standing next to him at the podium, Putin, was responsible for directing a hacking and influence campaign to undermine the 2016 elections, Trump equivocated.
“I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia],” the president said.
Trump has only once — in a tweet on May 30 this year — publicly conceded that Russia’s Putin-directed interference campaign helped push him across the finish line, a tweet he quickly recanted.
“No, Russia did not help me get elected,” he said later that same day.
While the intelligence community concluded in 2017 that Russia’s efforts during the general election were intended to help Trump defeat Clinton, none of the agencies has ever definitively said whether those efforts actually helped propel Trump to victory.
Experts are confused as to why Barr has dredged up the question of the CIA’s assessment over Russia’s intent for Trump to win in 2016 because former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is now Secretary of State, already carried out a similar investigation two years ago.
Pompeo did not find any evidence that CIA officials had been politically pressured to issue their conclusion about Russia’s preferred candidate.
Despite that, Barr selected Connecticut district attorney John Durham to probe similar threads as Pompeo’s inquiry followed in 2017. Barr has said Durham will investigate whether federal officials inappropriately conducted a “spying” operation on Trump campaign officials Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
Both surveillance warrants against Page and Papadopoulos were approved by a FISA court.