The general consensus of the American intelligence community is that Russia influenced the American election, minimally, by helping sow the seeds of chaos and disillusionment among voters, flooding the internet with fake news and hacked emails in an effort to undermine American’s faith and trust in its institutions and in each other. The growing consensus—which squares with the optics of the 2016 race where one candidate was repeatedly and bizarrely complimentary of Vladimir Putin—is that Russia stirred the American electoral pot in order to help Donald Trump to the White House. The explicit links to, and intentions of, the Russians have yet to be revealed and the usual caveats about jumping to intelligence-based conclusions apply. But on Wednesday, NBC News went one step further, reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “personally involved” in the effort to influence the election.
Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said. Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.
Previous, early intelligence reports indicated the hack and release of Democrats’ emails were orchestrated by senior officials in Moscow. Trump and Republicans have tried to downplay the Russian influence now that they’ve won, but as more information comes out to solidify the Russian link and the potential role played by Putin, the case against a full-scale, wide-ranging investigation will be harder for GOP leaders to make.