In a secret assessment that was made public on Friday, the CIA concluded that state sanctioned Russian hackers intervened in the recent presidential election on behalf of President Elect Donald Trump.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies were able to identify individuals that provided WikiLeaks with thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and connect them to the Russian Government, according to a Senior U.S. official. These e-mails included correspondence with the Democratic National Committee as well as Clinton’s campaign chairman. The individuals identified as a part of the hack are said to be known state actors within the intelligence community that were a part of a larger operation intended to boost Trump’s chances at winning the presidency.
“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 U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
Donald Trump’s transition team, tasked with aiding the President Elect in assuming the role and responsibilities of President, made the following statement in response to the announcement, “These are the same people who said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 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’.”
Donald Trump himself also spoke out earlier this week regarding the possibility of Russian hacking playing a role in his victory over Clinton, the Democratic Candidate. 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 doesn’t seem as certain, however. CIA staff provided their latest assessment of the situation to key senators in a closed-door briefing that took place this week on Capitol Hill. In the briefing, agency officials provided a “growing body of evidence” from multiple intelligence channels that they claimed made it “quite clear” that Russia was intervening on behalf of the dark horse GOP candidate, according to one official who requested anonymity.
Reports indicate that not all staff present were unanimous in their interpretation of the findings, however, as some intelligence officials cited the lack of damning evidence to show Putin’s regime in the Kremlin actually directed hackers to take action. The hackers in question were regarded as “one step removed” from the Russian government, making it impossible to truly assign blame to any Russian officials.
After the briefing, sitting President Barrack Obama ordered a “full review” of the situation, citing increasing pressure from Congress to allow for greater public understanding of exactly what, if any, influence Moscow may have had on the U.S. election.
“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 counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco said. “The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process … and to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders, to include the Congress.”
Obama wants to receive the report before leaving office on January 20th.
Prior to this recent revelation, intelligence officials had made claims suggesting that Russian hackers were attempting to undermine the election process and American faith in the electoral college system, even going so far as to accuse Moscow of interfering in the election officially in October, but this marks the first time U.S. officials have indicated that the hacking may have been motivated by support of one candidate.
“That was a major clue to their intent,” the anonymous official said. “If all they wanted to do was discredit our political system, why publicize the failings of just one party, especially when you have a target like Trump?”
Some question the validity of claims that Russian hacking or released e-mails could have swayed the election, but Democrats point out that Trump’s victory was secured by a relatively small margin of just eighty-thousand votes across three states. In that scope, many believe even a slight Russian influence could have swayed the election in Trump’s favor.
Republicans aren’t as convinced. “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 Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team. “There’s a lot of innuendo, lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.”
Russia’s motivations in the election could be driven by a belief that Trump will deal more willingly with Putin’s regime, possibly reconsidering sanctions levied against the country by the Obama administration that Clinton would most likely continue. Trump has made it clear throughout his campaign that he’s willing to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin in hopes of reducing tensions between western nations and the former Soviet powerhouse.
If claims regarding Russian interference on Trump’s behalf turn out to be true, it could place Republicans in the difficult position of having to explain away their party’s involvement with a nation many perceive to be a growing threat to American and European interests around the globe. Republicans may be forced to choose sides between a Republican president and prominent officials within their own party like Senator Lindsey Graham, who voiced support for a probe into the issue on Wednesday.
“I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia,” Graham said. “I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want [Russian President Vladimir] Putin personally to pay the price.”
For now, Donald Trump, who was recently selected as Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” continues to dismiss the possibility of Russian involvement in his victory; “I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said. “That became a laughing point — not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.’”
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