Amid the focus of the Democratic convention this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the fifth volume of its report on Russian tampering with the 2016 election. This final installment of the Russia investigation runs nearly 1,000 pages and should put the final nail in the theory that the Russia investigation was a hoax perpetrated to undermine President Trump. The investigation “found that the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”
Importantly, the Senate report was bipartisan. Both parties agreed to the findings, which represent a consensus of the facts surrounding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. This is not a hatchet job by Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic House.
The report details extensive contacts between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Among the most disturbing of these revelations was the fact that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager from June through August 2016, had a “willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” that US intelligence considered a “grave counterintelligence threat.” Manafort’s “presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the report found.
Manafort was directly involved with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian political consultant who the report identifies as “a Russian intelligence officer.” Kilimnik was Manafort’s top aide during the Trump official’s years in Ukraine and the report notes that Manafort “tried to share internal campaign information with him” during the 2016 campaign. Investigators also obtained “some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s [Russian military intelligence] hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election,” i.e. the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta email accounts.
Manafort and Kilimnik also allegedly participated in a Russian disinformation campaign as late as January 2020. This campaign attempted to shift blame for the election meddling to Ukraine. Manafort’s continued involvement with the Russians seems to indicate that he was more than an unwitting dupe.
The Senate report also discusses Roger Stone’s role as a liaison between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which acted as a means for Russian intelligence to leak the stolen emails. Senate investigators found that “Trump and senior Campaign officials” directed Stone to “gain inside knowledge for the Campaign and shared his purported knowledge directly with Trump and senior campaign officials on multiple occasions.” The Trump campaign believed that “Stone had inside information and expressed satisfaction that Stone’s information suggested more releases would be forthcoming.”
The report leaves no doubt about the motives of the Trump campaign with respect to Stone’s information, saying, “While GRU and WikiLeaks were releasing hacked documents, the Trump Campaign sought to maximize the impact of those leaks to aid Trump’s electoral prospects.”
The report also revisits the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and several Russians. The report found that “it was the intent of the Campaign participants in the
meeting, particularly Donald Trump Jr., to receive derogatory information that would be of benefit to the Campaign from a source known, at least by Trump Jr., to have connections to the Russian government.” Receiving such information would be a violation of federal election law. In the end, the Senate investigators found “no reliable evidence that information of benefit to the Trump Campaign was transmitted at the June 9, 2016 meeting, or that Trump had foreknowledge” of the meeting, but members of the Trump campaign did show intent to conspire illegally with Russian agents.
The report also includes copies of a number of letters to Vladimir Putin from Donald Trump. Although the letters were written before Trump became president, they shed light on his relationship with Putin, especially a 2007 letter in which Trump gushes, “I am a big fan of yours!” The exclamation point is in the original letter and the phrase is underlined in the same ink with which Trump signed the letter.
The report also criticized the FBI for its use of the Steele dossier. The investigators found that the “lacked rigor and transparency” and that Steele was a “potential direct channel for Russian influence” because the former British intelligence officer’s connections to Russian intelligence agents.
“The Committee found that, within the FBI, the dossier was given a veneer of credibility by lax procedures, and layered misunderstandings. Before corroborating the information in the dossier, FBI cited that information in a FISA application,” the report states.
The bipartisan spirit breaks down in the end. Republicans opined that “after more than three years of investigation by this Committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion,” even though there was ample evidence of attempts to collude with Russia and WikiLeaks. On the other hand, Democrats argue that the evidence “unambiguously shows that members of the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected.”
The two tribes do agree that the threat of Russian election tampering remains. They also came together on several recommendations that include updating and enforcing laws that regulate foreign agents and having the FBI conduct “defensive briefings” for campaigns. The Committee also recommended that the Intelligence Community “bolster” efforts to uncover and combat foreign influence campaigns.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report contains a wealth of important information for voters concerned about the threat of foreign governments on American campaigns. There is simply too much to cover in a single article. As with the Mueller report, would be best if voters download and read the report for themselves, rather than taking spun and sanitized versions from politically biased sources as gospel.
Even President Trump’s defenders should be alarmed at the extent of foreign election meddling. It’s difficult to maintain our independence if foreign powers are subverting the very foundations of our Republic.
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