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Senate Intel Panel Endorses U.S. Spies' Finding That Russian Attack Aided Trump

The Senate intelligence committee, led by chairman Richard Burr (right) and vice chairman Mark Warner, endorsed with their colleagues the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
The Senate intelligence committee, led by chairman Richard Burr (right) and vice chairman Mark Warner, endorsed with their colleagues the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

The Senate intelligence committee said Wednesday that it stands by the conclusion of the U.S. spy agencies that Russia's attack on the 2016 election sought to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton — a break with the finding of the House intelligence panel.

Members of the tight-lipped Senate panel backed this conclusion after spending more than two hours with Obama administration officials who were behind the intelligence community's highly classified assessment, made in the immediate aftermath of the election.

Parts of the assessment were declassified in January 2017 and concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign during the 2016 election to "denigrate" Hillary Clinton; the assessment also said that Putin and the Russian government "developed a clear preference" for Trump over the course of the campaign.

"Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions," said chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

The House intelligence committee's report, prepared by its Republican majority, said that there were unspecified "significant intelligence tradecraft failings" with the assessment. The report disputed whether Putin was actively trying to aid Trump.

The bipartisan conclusion by Burr and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Mark Warner — made after a meeting Wednesday with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — amounts to a vote of confidence for the spy agencies.

Warner alluded obliquely to the House committee's decision to break with the CIA and other spy agencies.

"There are entities — at least subsets of other entities — that may have come up with another conclusion but ... we've interviewed literally over 100 individuals that were directly associated with [the intelligence community assessment]," Warner explained.

He continued: "I've heard nothing to contradict anything from the [assessment], particularly in terms of the fact that Russians massively intervened in our elections to the purpose of helping Mr. Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."

The Senate intelligence committee's probe into Russian interference has been largely bipartisan, in stark contrast to the parallel investigation conducted by the House panel.

House committee Republicans concluded their investigation with a finding that the Trump campaign had committed no wrongdoing in 2016 and that its contacts with Russians were simply "ill-advised." Democrats complained that investigation was not sufficiently thorough.

The Senate effort continues. Senators say they'll put their conclusions about the intelligence community's assessment in a written report.

"The next step on this on this ... is to get a document out to try to continue to educate the American people," Warner told reporters assembled outside the meeting room. "There are a lot of folks that have dismissed the seriousness of the Russian threat. It is real."

Members of the panel warn that the Russian threat they are examining is not a historical artifact but a continuing danger.

"I also firmly believe that this effort is not over, that it continues to this very day, [when] the Russians are trying to sow the seeds of discontent in our society, take advantage of the polarization that exists, and divide us further," said Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

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Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.