Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an intelligence operation against the U.S. presidential campaign and ultimately sought to help Donald Trump win the White House, according to a new U.S. intelligence report released Friday, shortly after the president-elect appeared to dismiss its key findings. Putin both “aspired to help” Trump in November and to “harm” Trump’s rival, Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with leaks of pilfered emails and other covert activities, the report concludes in a dramatic expansion of official U.S. accusations against the Kremlin. The report depicts the Russian operation as unprecedented, saying that an aggressive mix of digital thefts and leaks, fake news and propaganda represented “a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort” against a U.S. election campaign. Moscow’s goals “were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report states. “We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” They “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton,” the report adds.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies found no evidence that hackers tampered with actual voting or with counting ballots on election day. But in a startling new assertion, it says Russian intelligence “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards,” adding that Russian spies began collecting information on equipment used in U.S. elections in early 2014.
The 14 pages released offer a largely circumstantial case rather than hard evidence of Putin’s direct involvement, and mostly focus on Russian propaganda efforts. But the full report remains classified, and the public portion does not include the specific intelligence. Still, the rare release of a major intelligence assessment marks a sharp escalation in what has become a bare-knuckle fight between Trump and the U.S. intelligence community, backed by President Obama, over the president-elect’s repeated derision of their understanding of Russia’s role.
Intelligence officials had planned to declassify the key findings next week after briefing members of Congress. But the declassified summary was rushed out Friday afternoon shortly after Trump had been briefed on the full report — and had made clear he was not convinced. In a statement, Trump conflated the Russian cyberattacks with those of other countries and individuals, and said the hacking had “absolutely no effect” on the election.