The Central Intelligence Agency has apparently reached the conclusion that Moscow wasn’t just rooting for a Donald Trump victory, but actively worked to try to make it happen. According to a secret bombshell assessment that was first reported by the Washington Post, it is the “consensus view” of the intelligence community that the hacks and other cyberattacks that marked the presidential campaign weren’t just an effort to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system but rather an active campaign to install the Kremlin’s favorite candidate in the White House.
The president-elect responded to the report with an astounding rebuke of the country’s intelligence services, essentially questioning the credibility of the key agency he will be leading in a little more than a month. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement released by Trump’s transition team says. “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.’”
At a meeting with several senators last week, the CIA said it was “quite clear” that Russia’s goal was to help Trump get elected. But that view was not a formal assessment by all of the country’s intelligence agencies as there were apparently some disagreements. Even though U.S. intelligence agents identified people with connections to the Kremlin who provided thousands of hacked emails to WikiLeaks there is no specific evidence showing Russian officials directing them. But those in the intelligence community say that not much should be read into that because Moscow is fond of using middlemen for sensitive operations.
At least part of the way the CIA reached its conclusion that Moscow wanted to get Trump elected was that Russian hackers were almost exclusively focused on Democratic targets at the tail end of the campaign. “That was a major clue to their intent,” an official tells Reuters. “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?”
The New York Times takes that one step further, saying that the CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that Russian hackers did indeed get inside the Republican National Committee’s network but did not release any information from there. “We now have high confidence that they hacked the D.N.C. and the R.N.C., and conspicuously released no documents” from the Republicans, a senior administration official tells the Times. Republicans have long denied their network was hacked, saying only individual Republicans were affected by hacks. The FBI apparently agrees with the Republicans, saying the efforts to hack the Republican National Committee’s computers were not successful.
Some, however, are cautioning against reading too much into this, saying the Russians—like the rest of the world—really expected Hillary Clinton to win the election, which is why they focused their efforts on discrediting her. The leaked information, they say, could have later been used to delegitimize her presidency.
Trump has long rejected claims that Russia interfered in the election, saying the hacks could have been carried out by someone inside the United States. “I don’t believe they interfered,” he told Time in a recent interview. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” He said that the speculation of Russian involvement during the campaign “became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.”
Reports of the CIA’s views came as the Whtie House said President Obama had called for a broad intelligence review of cyberattacks that took place during the campaign. The president has asked that the report be completed before he leaves office. “The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”