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Pro-Trump Senators Back Intelligence Officials on Hacking Report

Their decision not to challenge intelligence findings comes after Trump spent weeks sowing doubts about Russia's alleged interference in the election.
James Comey
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.'Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Two of President-elect Donald Trump's biggest supporters on the Senate Intelligence Committee told the nation's top intelligence chiefs Tuesday they have no reason to doubt Russia interfered in last year's election.

Their decision to endorse the findings comes after Trump spent weeks sowing doubts about Moscow's alleged involvement and its preference that he win the presidency over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — findings that the president-elect said had "absolutely no effect on the outcome" of the 2016 presidential election.

The committee meeting Tuesday was the first time Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, appeared to directly endorse the intelligence findings.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, also a vocal Trump supporter, didn't challenge the conclusions that the Russian government was targeting the election either, but said Clinton was at fault for faltering to Trump.

She "lost this election not because of Vladimir Putin or fake news or that she lost the electoral college, but because she ran a bad campaign," Cotton said.

Senators peppered FBI Director James Comey, along with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and John Brennan, the CIA director, with questions about Russian conducting cyberespionage to influence the presidential election.

Comey said that the agency’s requests to examine the servers of the Democratic National Committee were denied — disputing a report this month that the FBI never asked for access.

Comey's comments were his first made publicly since the November election and since last week's release of a declassified report into the alleged Russian interference.

He was called to the Capitol to speak about the alleged Russian hacking and was not specifically asked about the FBI's investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state. Comey faced criticism for his decision to notify Congress just 11 days before the election that the agency was reviewing a new batch of emails that appeared to be pertinent to their investigation.

Related:FBI Director James Comey: 2016 'a Challenging Year'

Moscow tried to help Trump "by discrediting Secretary Clinton," according to the 25-page report, the contents of which was met with "high confidence" from the FBI and CIA. The NSA "has moderate confidence" in the findings implicating Russia.

Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks.

Trump met with U.S. intelligence officials Friday after weeks of openly feuding with the community, and stopped short of fully accepting the intelligence report. He insisted in a statement that the hacking had "absolutely no effect on the outcome."

The Democratic National Committee, the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations were targeted by the cyberattacks, two U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News about the report. Republicans were also targeted in the cyberespionage campaign although they did not suffer the same email leaks as the Democrats did.

Comey told senators Tuesday that there were intrusions at state-level voter registration databases, but there was no evidence that Russian hackers targeted the Trump campaign or current Republican National Committee domains.

Clapper said that only stolen information from Democrats was released.

He added that Russia could be seeking to influence political views in about a couple dozen other countries.

Related: U.S. Has ID'd Russians Who Gave Hacked Emails to WikiLeaks

Commitee member Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said the Russians got what they wanted by creating chaos "to get us to fight each other over whether our elections were legitimate."

Rubio also raised the worry — and Clapper endorsed it — that the Russians could plant incriminating information on a U.S. politician to discredit him or her.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, said Russia's motive was simply to "help Russia and to weaken America."

"In the next election, the shoe could be on the other foot, and a foreign power could decide they want a Democrat to win next time," he added.

Trump has said he would put together a plan within 90 days to "aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks," but indicated discussions on how to do so wouldn't be done publicly.

In retaliation against Russia, President Barack Obama last month unveiled sanctions against the country's intelligence service and expelled 35 of its diplomats from the United States.