A secret CIA report found that Russian actors sought to boost Donald Trump in the election, and the report was presented to White House officials and Congressional leaders, according to a Washington Post report. Before the election, the White House weighed taking more aggressive actions to address the possible interference, the Washington Post said, but failed to get bipartisan support from lawmakers. Specifically, according to the Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed skepticism when briefed on the intelligence surrounding the hacks, and said that he considered going public with the concerns about Russian interference an act of partisan politics.
The Trump transition team brushed off the report, and said it was “time to move on” in a statement late Friday.
Th Washington Post revelation of the CIA’s assessment is based on the unnamed U.S. officials who were briefed on the agency’s examination, including officials present at briefings with lawmakers on the matter. The White House and CIA officials declined to comment to the Post for the story.
Russian forces have long been speculated to have been behind the cyber hacks of various elements of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The CIA’s investigation did not turn up evidence that Kremlin officials themselves were directing the cyber attacks on the Democrats and an official described the Russian actors as “one step” removed from the government, according to the Post. The Post noted that Moscow has been known to use middlemen in some covert operations.
Previously, many in the intelligence community said that Russian actors tried to destabilize the public’s confidence in the U.S.’s democratic institutions and President Obama has ordered an investigation on a possible Russian hack. The CIA report went a step further in finding that “Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” as one senior U.S. official put it to the Post.
Lawmakers were given a presentation last week on the CIA’s examination, the Washington Post reported, but due to minor disagreements among the government’s various intelligence agencies, it was not considered a formal assessment.
Back in September, according to the Post, congressional leaders were briefed on the possibility of Russian interference in a secret meeting. The Obama administration has decided by mid-September that the best way forward was to respond more aggressively, the Post said, but only with the bipartisan support of congressional lawmakers, given the closeness of the election, so that the White House could avoid the appearance of partisanship. Specifically, according to the Post, the White House sought to issue a statement signed by congressional leaders of both parties highlighting the risk of Russian intrusion in state and local election systems, and encouraging electoral officials to accept federal help in protecting their systems.
The White House called a meeting with the so-called Gang of 12, a group that includes the majority and minority leaders of both chambers of Congress, as well as the chair and ranking members of the intelligence and homeland security committees in both chambers. There, Democratic lawmakers supported plan, while the Republicans were split, with McConnell and other GOP leaders casting doubt on the CIA’s findings, the Washington Post reported.
Since the Washington Post’s report was published Friday evening, Democrats have called for a congressional investigation. McConnell’s office, which did not respond to the Post’s request for comment in its story, told Buzzfeed that the majority leader “would not violate federal law by providing classified information.”
The Trump transition team dismissed the CIA in its statement about the story.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 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,'” the statement said.