WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House, and not just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.
U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that as the 2016 presidential campaign progressed, Russian government officials devoted increasing attention to assisting Trump’s effort to win the election, the U.S. official familiar with the finding told Reuters on Friday night, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The president-elect’s transition office released a statement that exaggerated his margin of victory and attacked the U.S. intelligence community that Trump will soon command, but did not address the analysts’ conclusion.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction,” the statement said. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are calling for a full investigation into Russia’s election year activities.
“Protecting the integrity of our elections is hindered when President-elect Trump and his transition team minimize or dismiss the intelligence assessments themselves,” Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in a statement issued on Saturday.
Citing U.S. officials briefed on the matter, the Washington Post reported on Friday that intelligence agencies had identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, to WikiLeaks.
U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence agencies to review cyber attacks and foreign intervention into the 2016 election and deliver a report before he leaves office on Jan. 20, the White House said on Friday.
Obama’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, told reporters the report’s results would be shared with lawmakers and others.
“The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process ... and to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders, to include the Congress,” she said during an event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
As summer turned to fall, Russian hackers turned almost all their attention to the Democrats. Virtually all the emails they released publicly were potentially damaging to Clinton and the Democrats, not Republicans, the official told Reuters.
“That was a major clue to their intent,” the official said. “If all they wanted to do was discredit our political system, why publicize the failings of just one party, especially when you have a target like Trump?”
A second official familiar with the report said the intelligence analysts’ conclusion about Russia’s motives does not mean the intelligence community believes that Moscow’s efforts altered or significantly affected the outcome of the election.
Russian officials have denied all accusations of interference in the U.S. election.
A Central Intelligence Agency spokeswoman said the agency had no comment on the matter.
The hacked emails passed to WikiLeaks were a regular source of embarrassment to the Clinton campaign during the race for the presidency.
U.S. intelligence analysts have assessed “with high confidence” that at some point in the extended presidential campaign Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government had decided to try to bolster Trump’s chances of winning.
The Russians appear to have concluded that Trump had a shot at winning and that he would be much friendlier to Russia than Clinton would be, especially on issues such as maintaining economic sanctions and imposing additional ones, the official said.
Moscow is launching a similar effort to influence the next German election, following an escalating campaign to promote far-right and nationalist political parties and individuals in Europe that began more than a decade ago, the official said.
In both cases, said the official, Putin’s campaigns in both Europe and the United States are intended to disrupt and discredit the Western concept of democracy by promoting extremist candidates, parties, and political figures.
In October, the U.S. government publicly accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. Obama has said he warned Putin about consequences for the attacks.
“I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump told Time magazine about Russia in an interview published this week. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.’”
Writing by David Alexander and John Walcott; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; Editing by Louise Heavens and Matthew Lewis