Politics

A New Report Adds Evidence That Trump Was a Russian Asset

He helped Putin manipulate the U.S. election in 2020, as he did in 2016.

Silhouettes of Trump and Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in 2019. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump was a tool in a long-running Russian campaign to weaken the United States. That’s been documented in Republican-led investigative reports, and now it has been updated with new evidence, thanks to the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment of the 2020 election. The report, drafted by the CIA, the FBI, and several other agencies, was released in unclassified form on Tuesday, but it was presented in classified form on Jan. 7. In other words, it was compiled, written, and edited during Trump’s administration. It destroys his lies about the election, and it exposes him as a Russian asset.

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The report debunks conspiracy theories, promoted by Trump and his lawyers, that hackers in other countries robbed him of victory. “We have no indications that any foreign actor attempted to interfere in the 2020 US elections by altering any technical aspect of the voting process,” including “ballot casting, vote tabulation, or reporting results,” says the document. A separate analysis released by the Department of Justice reaches the same conclusion. The IC report adds that evidence of such operations, if they existed, would have shown up in U.S. surveillance or in “post-election audits of electronic results and paper backups.” The report implicitly mocks insinuations from Trump’s lawyers that former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, somehow rigged Trump’s defeat. “We have no information,” it notes drily, that “current or former Venezuelan regimes were involved in attempts to compromise US election infrastructure.”

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During the campaign, Trump, his national security appointees, and his allies in Congress insisted that China was meddling in the election to help Joe Biden. They even claimed that China’s interference was more dangerous than Russia’s. The report shreds that fiction. China “did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US Presidential election,” says the assessment. It finds no attempt by China to “provide funding to any candidates or parties,” and it challenges the Republican spin that China feared Trump because he was too tough. It argues, to the contrary, that Beijing saw Trump as a weaker adversary because he “would alienate US partners,” whereas Biden “would pose a greater challenge over the long run because he would be more successful in mobilizing a global alliance against China.”

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As to Russia, the report leaves no doubt: In 2020, as in 2016, “President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations” to help Trump and hurt his Democratic opponent. For example, “Shortly after the 2018 midterm elections, Russian intelligence cyber actors attempted to hack organizations primarily affiliated with the Democratic Party.” Then, in late 2019, Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, “conducted a phishing campaign against subsidiaries of Burisma holdings, likely in an attempt to gather information related to President Biden’s family.” Throughout the 2020 election, agents “connected to the Russian Federal Security Service,” FSB, planted negative stories about Biden. Internet operatives working for the Kremlin, including the troll farm that had boosted Trump in 2016, continued to promote “Trump and his commentary, including repeating his political messaging.”

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Attacks on Biden and his son, Hunter, were part of this operation. Through “US officials and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration,” the report says Russia’s intelligence services “repeatedly spread unsubstantiated or misleading claims about President Biden and his family’s alleged wrongdoing related to Ukraine.” In this way, Trump’s circle “laundered” the Russian-planted stories, which were then recirculated—and promoted by Russia’s online proxies—as American news.

One section of the report zeroes in on two Russian agents, Andriy Derkach and Konstantin Kilimnik, along with their associates. It says they met with and passed materials to people linked to the Trump administration to advocate for government investigations. Derkach peddled audio recordings that were edited to make Biden look corrupt, and he “worked to initiate legal proceedings in Ukraine and the US related to these allegations.” The report doesn’t name the Americans who collaborated with the Russian agents, but it’s easy to identify them from news reports. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, met with Derkach twice. Donald Trump Jr. promoted Derkach’s tapes. Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, gave Kilimnik inside information on the campaign. Trump, in a 2019 phone call, pressed Ukraine’s president to open an investigation of Biden, as Derkach proposed. And congressional Republicans, led by Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes, parroted a Russian-planted narrative “to falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.”

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Trump also helped Putin discredit American democracy. That was a major goal of Russia’s 2016 and 2020 operations, the report explains: “Throughout the election, Russia’s online influence actors sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in ballots, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud.” Trump peddled the same fears. After the election, as “Russian online influence actors continued to promote narratives questioning the election results,” Trump duplicated that message. Russia’s agents also hyped “allegations of social media censorship,” as Trump did.

The IC assessment doesn’t address what Trump knew about the Russian influence campaign. But according to former officials who spoke last fall to the Washington Post and the New York Times, he was directly warned. In a December 2019 conversation, then–national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Trump that Giuliani had been “worked by Russian assets in Ukraine.” Trump shrugged and went on promoting the allegations Giuliani was feeding him. That makes Trump more than a Russian asset. It makes him, in technical terms, an agent of a foreign power.

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