Bipartisan Senate report says 2017 intel assessment about Russian interference and Trump was accurate

The new report by the GOP-run intelligence committee undercuts criticisms by some Trump supporters that the assessment overstated Russia's activities.
Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on April 20, 2020.Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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By Ken Dilanian

A bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee has validated the January 2017 U.S. intelligence assessment describing Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election — including Russian efforts to help Donald Trump — describing it as accurate, thorough, and untainted by political bias.

Click here to read the report.

"The Committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community's conclusions," said Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.

The CIA and other spy agencies produced the assessment during the final weeks of the Obama administration, and a version of it was made public on Jan. 6, 2017. It told a story of a Russian covert operation designed to undermine American democracy that evolved into an attempt to help Trump win.

The new report by the Republican-run committee — which examines how the assessment was put together — undercuts criticisms by some of President Trump's supporters that the spy agencies overstated Russia's activities. A long-running theory on the right holds that the assessment was "rigged" by a cabal of hand-picked intelligence analysts led by then-CIA Director John Brennan, who has become a vocal Trump critic.

The Senate report found no evidence of that. To the contrary, the intelligence committee was told that debate over the conclusions was free flowing and that no one exerted undue influence.

"In all the interviews of those who drafted and prepared the (assessment), the Committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach specific conclusions," the report says. "All analysts ... were free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels."

That conclusion is significant, because it comes as a prosecutor appointed by Attorney General William Barr is said to be examining Brennan's role in the assessment, which was written based on intelligence gathered by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, among others.

Barr has suggested Durham may indict people.

"He is looking to bring to justice people who are engaged in abuses if he can show that they were criminal violations, and that's what the focus is on," Barr said recently on Fox News.

Much has been made of a disagreement between the CIA and the NSA over the level of confidence assigned to the conclusion that Russia developed a preference for Trump. The CIA asserted that with "high confidence" while the NSA cited "moderate confidence."

The report says the disagreement over that detail "was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated among the agencies and analysts."

It adds that the decision to present of differing confidence levels in the same document was the responsibility of Brennan and the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, "both of whom independently expressed to the Committee that they reached the final wording openly and with sufficient exchanges of views."

The assessment of Russian interference "was a comprehensive all-source detailed assessment written by the top-notch analysts in the intelligence community," said Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired CIA case officer who played a role in the intelligence gathering. "It was a top-notch document that revealed the true Russian efforts to subvert American democracy. There is no dispute that Russia interfered in our elections. None."

In "Key Judgments," the 2017 analysis said, "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 (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

In another key finding, the new Senate report confirms that information from the largely discredited dossier by former British spy Christopher Steele was not used as a basis for any of the findings and conclusions.

A summary of the Steele dossier was included in the appendix of the document at the insistence of the FBI officials, who believed the document should include everything the agencies had been told about the subject of Russian interference the report says.

The report says Rogers' "initial reaction was that the Steele information ought not be in the body" of the assessment, but, 'Let's put it in the appendix.'"

In addition to Burr, the Republicans on the committee include James Risch of Idaho, Marco Rubio of Florida, Susan Collins of Maine, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — all Trump backers to varying degrees.

Nonetheless, the report did nothing to quiet vocal critics of the assessment, including Fred Fleitz, a former CIA officer, House Intelligence Committee staffer and Trump supporter.

"This report reads like a whitewash," he said on Twitter.

Julie Tsirkin contributed.