A Russian covert operation designed to undermine American democracy evolved into an attempt to help Donald Trump win, according to the declassified version of a long-awaited intelligence report released Friday.
In "Key Judgments," the report says, "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
The report says that the Russian government tried to help Trump "by discrediting Secretary Clinton." It says that of the three agencies that prepared the report, the CIA, the FBI have "high confidence" in this judgment, while the NSA "has moderate confidence."
The report also says that the Russian hacking campaign targeted or compromised "elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards," but not systems involved in vote tallying.
The 25-page report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, called "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections," offers the public a flavor of what officials say is a much more detailed dossier of still-secret evidence that led all 17 American intelligence agencies to conclude with high confidence that the Russians — not the Chinese or a 400-pound hacker in his bedroom, as Trump famously put it — were behind an unprecedented cyber intrusion that some lawmakers have called an act of war.
Emails of Democratic operatives were hacked and distributed through WikiLeaks in a way that political experts say was designed to inflict maximum political damage on the Hillary Clinton campaign. There also were a series of fake news stories damaging to Clinton, many of which got their start with Russian-backed outlets.
RT, WikiLeaks and Mike Flynn
The report includes a passage about RT, the Russian state broadcaster. In 2015, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, Trump's national security advisor, attended RT’s 10th anniversary dinner in Moscow and sat at a table with Putin. Flynn has acknowledged he was paid by RT, though he has declined to say how much.
RT, the report says, collaborated with WikiLeaks as part of a Russian propaganda effort designed to discredit the United States.
"The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks," the report says.
RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT, he report says.
"Russian media subsequently announced that RT had become `the only Russian media company’ to partner with WikiLeaks and had received access to `new leaks of secret information.’ RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States."
At another point, the report says, "We assess with high confidence that the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence arm) relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries."
The unclassified report does not identify who transmitted the information or how. A senior official with direct knowledge, however, told NBC News Thursday that the U.S. has identified the Russian actors who turned over stolen Democratic material to WikiLeaks.
The unclassified report was released shortly after Trump was briefed behind closed doors by the heads of the major intelligence agencies. After the briefing, Trump released a statement in which he called his meeting and conversation "constructive" and said he had "tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women" of the intelligence community.
He did not, however, explicitly embrace the findings of the intelligence agencies that the top levels of the Russian government interfered in the election with the hopes of hurting Hillary Clinton and, ultimately, helping him. He referred to Russia as one among several countries that might have tried to hack into the national infrastructure, but emphasized that no effect on the outcome of the election had been demonstrated.
The unclassified report laid out a series of "key judgments" about Russian interfering and hacking that goes back as far as 2008, and goes beyond political organizations.
A senior U.S. intelligence official with direct knowledge confirmed to NBC News that the classified version of this report, which was briefed to President-elect Trump Thursday, says that U.S. intelligence picked up senior Russian officials celebrating and congratulating one another over Donald Trump's win.
The source described the intelligence about the celebration as a minor part of the overall intelligence picture.
"Highly classified intercepts illustrate Russian government planning and direction of a multifaceted campaign by Moscow to undermine the integrity of the American political system," the official said.
That official, and another top intelligence official with direct knowledge, told NBC News that the report on Russian hacking also details Russian cyberattacks not just against the Democratic National Committee, but the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations.
The report does not offer any assessment about whether the hacking, leaking, and proliferation of fake news stories helped Trump win. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress Thursday that "we have no way of gauging the impact…it had on the choices the electorate made. There's no way for us to gauge that."
Nevertheless, Trump has been casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence around the Russian operation for weeks, and disparaging intelligence officers on Twitter in ways that have been deeply disturbing to many of them, current and former officials tell NBC News.
In his statement after his Friday briefing, Trump said he would appoint a team to prepare a plan to combat cyberattacks within 90 days of taking office, but said the methods and tools used to protect the country should not be part of a "public discussion."
Earlier in the day, the New York Times published a Trump interview in which he complained that the media attention focused on the hacking amounted to an unfair "political witch hunt" perpetrated by people who can’t accept that he won the election.
Whether Trump will now pivot and accept the intelligence findings, or continue to denounce them, may dictate the early direction of his presidency.
Earlier, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, having been briefed on the classified version, called it a "stunning disclosure."
A Congressional aide who had been briefed on the classified version said it presented an ironclad case that would convince any reasonable skeptic.
"What you will see is that there were evolving goals over time," the aide said. "At the end, they were trying to elect Trump."
The Russian covert operation, which was reported on before the election, has come to dominate Trump’s transition period, in part because it has appeared to create a widening gulf between Trump and the intelligence community he is poised to lead.
In October, the Obama administration released a written statement that intelligence agencies concluded with high confidence that Russia was behind the hacks and leaks designed to interfere in the election. But that statement came on the same day that Access Hollywood outtakes of lewd remarks by Trump dominated the news.
The Obama administration took no public action until last month, well after Trump’s victory, when it expelled 35 Russians it said were intelligence operatives, and imposed some sanctions.
"Every American should be alarmed by Russia's attacks on our nation," Sen. John McCain said Thursday during a hearing on the matter. "There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference."
The declassified report released Friday suggested Russia would continue its strategy of seeking to influence elections through cyber attacks and propaganda.
"We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes."