CIA finds Russia worked to aid Trump
Secret report sees ties to hacked DNC e-mails given to WikiLeaks
WASHINGTON — The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the US electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to US officials.
Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior US official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
The Trump transition team dismissed the CIA’s assessment Friday night.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,’’ the president-elect’s transition team said in a statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”
Trump has consistently dismissed the findings about Russian hacking. “I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal US assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies.
A senior US official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic e-mails to WikiLeaks, a second senior US official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.
Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has said the Kremlin was not the source.
The White House and CIA officials declined to comment.
On Friday, the White House said President Obama had ordered a “full review” of Russian hacking during the campaign, as pressure from Congress has grown for greater public understanding of what Moscow did to influence the electoral process.
“We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened, and to impart some lessons learned,” Obama’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, said at a Washington breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Obama wants the report before he leaves office, Monaco said. In her remarks, she didn’t address the latest CIA assessment, which hasn’t been previously disclosed.
Seven Democratic senators last week asked Obama to declassify details about the intrusions and why officials believe the Kremlin was behind the operation. Officials said Friday that the senators specifically were asking the White House to release portions of the CIA’s presentation.
This week, top Democratic lawmakers in the House also sent a letter to Obama, asking for briefings on Russian interference in the election.
In previous assessments, the CIA and other intelligence agencies told the White House and congressional leaders that they believed Moscow’s aim was to undermine confidence in the US electoral system. The assessments stopped short of saying the goal was to help elect Trump.
On Oct. 7, the intelligence community officially accused Moscow of seeking to interfere in the election through the hacking of ‘‘political organizations.’’ Though the statement never specified which party, it was clear that officials were referring to cyberintrusions into the computers of the DNC and other Democratic groups and individuals.
Though Russia has long conducted cyberspying on US agencies, companies, and organizations, this presidential campaign marks the first time Moscow has attempted through cyber means to interfere in the outcome of an election, the officials said.
Some key Republican lawmakers have continued to question the quality of evidence supporting Russian involvement.
‘‘I’ll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there’s clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence — even now,’’ said Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team.