The group of foreign officials who aided former President Trump and his circle in their search for dirt on President Biden were acting in line with an influence campaign overseen by Russian intelligence, according to new report from the intelligence community.
The effort to damage Biden’s campaign through smears included associates of the former president, the report says.
The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence offers a declassified assessment of foreign threats to the 2020 election, noting that Russia played the largest role in interfering in the process by boosting Trump while trying to diminish Biden.
The report also said that conspiracy theories put forth by Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani that the results of the 2020 election were, in fact, the result of an international communist conspiracy run by deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez were bogus.
Trump and other top administration officials first received the report on Jan. 7, one day after the president used the false claims about the election being stolen to egg on a crowd of his supporters into attacking Congress.
As recently as last month, Trump repeated claims that the election had been stolen from him, telling a crowd at CPAC that “had we had a fair election, the results would have been much different” and “we won the election twice.”
But apart from debunking the already dubious idea that Biden won thanks to Vladimir Lenin’s long-dead South American heir, the report offered new insight into who was directing the campaign to smear Biden. Excluded from the report is that in 2019, that same campaign led to Trump’s first impeachment.
That campaign began in part after Ukrainian officials met with Giuliani, Trump’s attorney at the time, in January 2019, claiming to have dirt on Biden from his time as vice president.
The intelligence report frames those narratives as part of a Russian influence campaign managed in part by the FSB, the country’s successor agency to the KGB. One Ukrainian official who met with Giuliani — parliamentarian Andriy Derkach — was acting at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report said.
Derkach and Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate of Paul Manafort who was indicted during the Mueller investigation, are the only two alleged Russian influence agents named in the report.
The report describes Derkach’s and Kilimnik’s efforts to seed Russian propaganda in the West without naming any of the recipients beyond describing them as “senior U.S. officials” and people “close to former President Trump and his administration.”
“These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration -linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations; hired a US firm to petition US officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior US officials,” the report said. “They also made contact with established US media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020.”
Though the report does not mention the encounter, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani met with Derkach in Kyiv in December 2019 to film a documentary for the conservative network OANN. Another documentary about the same topic, which also aired on OANN, was filmed by onetime HHS Press Secretary Michael Caputo and aired in January 2020.
That same campaign, earlier in 2019, resulted in Trump eagerly pushing the Ukrainian President to follow up on the investigations, should he wish to receive hundreds of millions in military aid appropriated by Congress. That quid pro quo led to Trump’s first impeachment.
The intel report also said that Kilimnik remains active in creating a “network of Ukraine-linked individuals” to “launder their narratives to US officials and audiences.”
The report does not name who is in that “network,” though it notes that they did succeed in “laundering” their narratives through “US persons and media conduits.”
TPM has separately reported that a number of Ukrainians who pushed the same narratives as Derkach played key roles in the impeachment saga, including Andrii Telizhenko and Yuriy Lutsenko. Telizhenko was sanctioned last month, after Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) spent part of 2020 pushing to include him in a Senate investigation that pushed the same claims that the intelligence community says are Russian propaganda. Telizhenko also met with Caputo and appeared in his documentary.
The report noted that Derkach began to release purported audio tapes last year of Biden speaking with Ukrainian officials while vice president. The authenticity of the tapes has never been verified, though the intelligence report conclusively states that they were the product of a Russian influence campaign aimed not only at interfering in the election, but at achieving its own foreign policy goals: undermining U.S. support for Ukraine while keeping Trump in office.
The report also covers Iran and China, finding that Beijing held back from overt interference in the 2020 election in part after seeing the damage that Moscow did to its relationship with the U.S. in 2016.
Iran, for its part, intervened in the election to damage Trump, the report says.
One “operation” described by the report featured Iranian operatives posing as members of the Proud Boys. In that case, the Iranians used spoofed identities to threaten Democratic voters into changing their party affiliation to Republican and voting for Trump. The same effort purportedly included the creation of a video about voter fraud.