Senate Releases Final Report On Russia's Interference In 2016 Election

Aug 18, 2020
Originally published on August 18, 2020 5:11 pm
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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today we got perhaps the most detailed look yet at Russia's efforts to influence the presidential race four years ago. The Senate Intelligence Committee has released the final report from its bipartisan investigation into Moscow's interference in the 2016 U.S. election. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been sifting through the document - nearly a thousand pages of it - and joins us now. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So this report from the Senate Intelligence Committee has been in the works for a long time - might explain that thousand pages. What's the takeaway?

LUCAS: Well, there's a lot in this report. The committee spent more than three years working on it, investigating Russia's interference, as you said, in the 2016 election. They reviewed more than a million documents, documents that were provided by U.S. spy agencies as well as documents that were provided by witnesses. They also interviewed witnesses - hundreds of them, including a lot of familiar names - Donald Trump Jr., former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort but also former Obama administration officials.

And all of that digging has gone into this report, and the committee concludes that Russia conducted a sophisticated and aggressive campaign to influence the U.S. election to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton and that folks on Team Trump were more than happy to accept help from the Russians. But what's really important about that conclusion is that it is a bipartisan one. It is endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans.

FADEL: Now, that sounds a lot like what Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined in his report last year as well.

LUCAS: Right. This report is, to a large extent, something that reaches the same conclusion that Mueller did on the question of Russia's interference. And the committee didn't draw a conclusion on whether the Trump campaign conspired or colluded with Russia. What the committee did instead was lay out the facts that they found and then kind of leave it to the reader to make up their own mind. Some committee Republicans, in an annex to the report, declared that there was no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded. Democratic members, in contrast, called Russia's actions and the Trump team's openness to them, quote, "one of the single most grave counterintelligence threats in modern American history." So there was a bit of a bipartisan divide on that matter.

FADEL: So what's new in this? What can the public actually take away that's new from this report?

LUCAS: So the report documents the extensive connections between folks in the Trump campaign and Russia, some of which we already knew. But it goes into greater depth, most notably probably on Paul Manafort. The report calls Manafort a, quote, "grave counterintelligence threat." It notes that Manafort had access to sensitive information and that he was willing to share it with people who had ties to Russian intelligence. Crucially, the report says that includes one of Manafort's closest aides, a man by the name of Konstantin Kilimnik who the committee says is a Russian intelligence officer. The report says that Manafort secretly shared internal campaign information with Kilimnik. It also says that Manafort and Kilimnik began in 2016 to push the false line, the falsity that it was Ukraine and not Russia that interfered in the U.S. election, which, of course, was to Russia's advantage.

FADEL: So let's shift for a second. WikiLeaks' decision to publish Democratic emails hacked by Russia played a big role in the 2016 campaign. What does the report say about that?

LUCAS: There are a couple of interesting things on the WikiLeaks question. One, the committee concludes that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the operation to hack Democratic computers and leak the stolen materials and that WikiLeaks likely knew that it was assisting a Russian influence operation when it published those. The committee also concludes that the Trump campaign tried to take advantage of Russia's hacking operation by trying to play up the stolen Democratic emails.

One line that stuck out to me, though, was the committee said it had information suggesting that Manafort's aide Konstantin Kilimnik, who I talked about, may have been connected to Russia's hack-and-leak operation. There are three big blocks of text after the committee says that in its report that are blocked out, so we don't know what that information is actually based on.

FADEL: So what does this mean for the 2020 vote, which is right around the corner?

LUCAS: Well, the top U.S. counterintelligence official said earlier this month that Russia is again trying to influence the 2020 vote. And here in the U.S., the political tussle over 2016 is still going on. U.S. attorney John Durham is looking into how the Obama administration investigated Russia's meddling in 2016. Durham brought his first case last week, and there may very well be more from Durham before the 2020 vote.

FADEL: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.