Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election — and Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to do so.
That’s according to an official statement from the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which they released on Wednesday. The committee conducted months of interviews with current and former intelligence officials to verify if American spies correctly assessed last year that Russia favored Trump and tried to sway the 2016 presidential election. It turns out the Senate panel agrees with the US intelligence community.
“Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community’s] conclusions were accurate and on point,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement with the panel’s chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
The senator added that the committee had spent 14 months reviewing the evidence and saw no reason to dispute the intelligence committee’s conclusions. “There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections,” Burr said.
We still don’t know if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia
Back in January 2017, three US intelligence agencies concluded that Putin ordered an “influence campaign” against Clinton to help Trump. And in February, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians for working to help Trump win by sowing divisions via the internet, like running ads meant to stir up racial tensions.
That meant nothing to the president and his loyalists who claim that the Trump-Russia connection is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” But now that a key Senate panel has backed the US intelligence community against Trump’s attacks, that defense is much, much weaker.
But more than that, the Senate just directly contradicted the assessment of House Republicans.
Both chambers held separate investigations into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. The Senate’s probe continues, but last March the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their investigation.
Committee Republicans concluded that there was “no evidence of collusion,” according to Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), the leader of the panel’s investigation.
There was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings,” Conaway added, but nothing that amounted to a coordinated and deliberate effort to work with Russians to win the White House. House Republicans released their official and partially redacted report with their conclusions in April.
Committee Democrats, however, criticized their counterparts for ending the probe too early — and for not taking the investigation seriously — to defend Trump. “In the coming weeks and months, new information will continue to be exposed,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee, said. “And each time this new information becomes public, Republicans will be held accountable for abandoning a critical investigation of such vital national importance.”
Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, seems to agree that House Republicans didn’t do their job. “I’m not sure that the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts,” the chair said to reporters last week.
There’s still more work for Burr and Warner to do: They have yet to finish their report to determine whether or not there actually was Trump-Russia collusion — something special counsel Mueller is also investigating. (Only Mueller has the power to charge anyone with a crime, though.)
That doesn’t make the Burr-Warner statement any less important. Now, definitively, the most authoritative congressional panel on the issue of Russia’s favoritism in the 2016 election has weighed in — and it weighed in against Trump.