WASHINGTON — Clocking in at nearly 1,000 pages and drawing on three-and-a-half years of work and more than a million documents, the latest report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is perhaps the most complete accounting yet of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election to damage Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump.
The report is the fifth and final volume of the Senate intelligence committee’s attempt to understand what the Russian government did, what the Trump campaign did, the actions taken by each side’s representatives, and why. The report is a bipartisan product. Members of the committee’s Democratic and Republican staffs compiled the report. Fourteen of the committee’s 15 senators from both parties endorsed the report. (The lone dissenter was Sen. James Risch (R-Ida.). Risch didn’t dispute that Russia disrupted American democracy but complained that the final report didn’t say the committee “found no evidence” of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. More on that later.)
Here are the key takeaways from the report.
Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race was not “fake news” or a “hoax,” as the president’s allies have claimed. It was real, widespread, and continues to this day.
The Senate intel committee’s report is unequivocal about this, writing that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president.” The Kremlin’s aim, the report says, was “to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process.”
In a supplemental document, Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), emphasize that the committee’s findings on Russian interference aren’t a backward-looking document. The committee’s report, instead, should be seen as an “alarm bell for the nation,” they write, “and for those preparing to defend the nation against current and evolving threats targeting the upcoming U.S. elections.” They go on to say that Russia is “actively interfering again” in the 2020 election and that Trump associates are “amplifying” those efforts.
“It is vitally important that the country be ready,” the Democratic senators conclude.
Trump’s one-time 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”
Manafort, a globe-trotting political consultant who had worked for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, served as Trump’s campaign chairman for only a few months. However, Manafort’s place in the upper rungs of the campaign and direct access to Trump “created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the Senate report says.
The Senate report highlights at least two of Manafort’s direct conduits back to Russia. One was a longtime business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik, who is described in the Senate report as “a Russian intelligence officer.” (The Mueller report stopped short of calling Kilminik a Russian agent, saying that he had “ties to Russian intelligence.”) The other was an oligarch named Oleg Deripaska, who had ties to the Kremlin and who had employed Manafort as an adviser.
“Taken as a whole, Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik and associates of Oleg Deripaska, represented a grave counterintelligence threat,” the report states.
The FBI should’ve been more skeptical of the dodgy Steele Dossier.
During the 2016 campaign, a former British spy named Christopher Steele was hired first by a Republican outfit and later by Democratic Party lawyers to dig up dirt on Trump. Steele went on to file various reports about Trump and Russia — some dealt with possible financial entanglements, others touched on possible blackmail material possessed by the Russians, even the existence of the supposed “pee tape.” Some of Steele’s research was later cited in sealed applications to surveil a fringe adviser on the Trump campaign named Carter Page.
In the years since, however, Steele’s research has come under intense criticism, including in a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general. The Senate intel committee report is similarly critical of Steele’s work, saying it “lacked rigor and transparency about the quality of the sourcing.” The Senate report also undercuts the existence of incriminating evidence, or kompromat, that involves Trump, stating that the intel committee “did not establish that the Russian government collected kompromat on Trump, nor did it establish that the Russian government attempted to blackmail Trump or anyone associated with his campaign with such information.”
The Senate report also chides the FBI for giving the Steele Dossier “unjustified credence, based on an incomplete understanding of Steele’s past reporting record.” The report goes on to say, “The Committee found that, within the FBI, the dossier was given a veneer of credibility by lax procedures and layered misunderstandings.”
The Senate’s report documents the many contacts between the Trump campaign, Trump Organization, and Russian officials, making abundantly clear why U.S. law enforcement agencies perceived a potential counterintelligence threat and opened an investigation into the Trump campaign. The FBI’s credulous use of the Steele Dossier doesn’t undermine the case to scrutinize Trumpworld’s Russian contacts, but it does reveal shoddy practices by the Bureau and the need for reform inside intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Trump potentially lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigators about his communications with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks.
The Senate report directly contradicts a key piece of President Trump’s written testimony as part of Special Counsel Mueller’s criminal investigation.
In his responses to Mueller’s question, Trump claimed he didn’t recall discussing WikiLeaks with his former political adviser Roger Stone and wasn’t aware of Stone having mentioned WikiLeaks. Trump went on to say that he had “no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016.”
The Senate’s report flatly contradicts this. “The Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions,” it states.
Trump’s failure to recall any interactions with Stone during the height of the 2016 campaign is also belied by various contacts between Stone and the Trump campaign documented in the Senate report. The report says the Trump campaign learned about the release of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape an hour before its release. During that time, the report says, Stone told an associate of his, right-wing writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, to tell WikiLeaks to “drop the Podesta emails immediately,” referring to a trove of emails stolen by Russia from the personal account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. WikiLeaks published the Podesta emails only half an hour after the Access Hollywood tape was published.
The report also shows that Stone even helped draft pro-Russia tweets for Trump to use in the summer of 2016. On July 31, 2016, the report says, “Stone then emailed Jessica Macchia, one of Trump’s assistants, eight draft tweets for Trump, under the subject line ‘Tweets Mr. Trump requested last night.’ Many of the draft tweets attacked Clinton for her adversarial posture toward Russia and mentioned a new peace deal with Putin, such as ‘I want a new detente with Russia under Putin.'”
Despite “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives,” Senate Republicans insist there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
One of the longest-running debates over Russian interference in the 2016 election was whether Trump or anyone in his orbit colluded with Russian officials to hurt Clinton and win the election.
The Senate intel committee’s report documents numerous instances in which people close to Trump solicited and encouraged the help of individuals with ties to the Kremlin. “The Committee’s bipartisan Report found that Russia’s goal in its unprecedented hack-and-leak operation against the United States in 2016, among other motives, was to assist the Trump Campaign,” the report states. “Candidate Trump and his Campaign responded to that threat by embracing, encouraging, and exploiting the Russian effort.”
The report goes on to say:
Trump solicited inside information in advance of WikiLeaks’s expected releases of stolen information, even after public reports widely attributed the activity to Russia, so as to maximize his electoral benefit. The Campaign crafted a strategy around these anticipated releases to amplify the dissemination and promotion of the stolen documents. Even after the U.S. government formally announced the hack-and-leak campaign as a Russian government effort, Trump’s embrace of the stolen documents and his efforts to minimize the attribution to Russia only continued. The Committee’s Report clearly shows that Trump and his Campaign were not mere bystanders in this attack — they were active participants. They coordinated their activities with the releases of the hacked Russian data, magnified the effects of a known Russian campaign, and welcomed the mutual benefit from the Russian activity.
It also highlights how members of the Trump campaign “sought, explicitly, to receive derogatory information” at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting “from a Russian lawyer known to have ties to the Russian government, with the understanding that the information was part of ‘Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.'”
Despite all of this, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), James Risch (R-Ida.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) concluded in a set of additional views attached to the Senate’s report that “After more than three years of investigation by this Committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion.”