Senate Intelligence Committee releases final report on 2016 Russian interference

Washington — The Senate Intelligence Committee released the long-awaited final volume of its investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference on Monday, marking the conclusion of what was held up as the last and arguably only bipartisan congressional investigation into the matter.  

The fifth chapter, parts of which were redacted, spans nearly 1,000 pages and deals with counterintelligence concerns stemming from potential links and interactions between Moscow and the 2016 campaigns. The committee details extensive contact between Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked closely with Manafort for years. The report labeled Kilimnik a “Russian intelligence officer.”

“The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for the Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the report said. “The Committee assesses that Kilimnik likely served as a channel to Manafort for Russian intelligence services, and that those services likely sought to exploit Manafort’s access to gain insight into the Campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik, represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”

In a statement, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the committee’s acting chairman, said investigators “found absolutely no evidence” that the Trump campaign “colluded” with the Russians, but said the committee did find “irrefutable evidence of Russian meddling.”

Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s vice chairman, noted in a statement that the report details “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections.”

“This cannot happen again,” the Virginia Democrat said. “As we head into the heat of the 2020 campaign season, I strongly urge campaigns, the executive branch, Congress and the American people to heed the lessons of this report in order to protect our democracy.”

The Senate committee’s report covers much of the same territory as that of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but is nearly five times as long as the comparable portion of the Mueller report. In a rare, wide-ranging interview in 2019, the committee’s then-Chairman Richard Burr told CBS News he believed the committee had interviewed several witnesses outside of the scope of Mueller’s inquiry.  

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve interviewed people that I don’t even know if the special counsel knows about them,” Burr said at the time. The Republican from North Carolina stepped aside from the chairmanship in May amid an investigation into his stock trades. Rubio, a Republican from Florida, now serves as the panel’s acting chairman.  

On Tuesday, Burr said the threat of Russian interference in U.S. elections is “ongoing.” 

“One of the Committee’s most important — and overlooked — findings is that much of Russia’s activities weren’t related to producing a specific electoral outcome, but attempted to undermine our faith in the democratic process itself,” he said in a statement. “Their aim is to sow chaos, discord, and distrust. Their efforts are not limited to elections.”

The Mueller report, released in April 2019, documented extensive interactions between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian operatives, but did not find that a criminal conspiracy existed between them. Six former Trump campaign associates were either indicted or convicted of crimes — mainly for lying to investigators — and more than two dozen Russian operatives were charged by the special counsel for engaging in election interference. Overall, Mueller’s report resulted in 37 indictments or guilty pleas.   

The Senate committee’s investigation, first launched in January 2017, was almost completely staff-led and involved interviews with hundreds of witnesses, including some overseas, and the review of more than a million pages of documents. Their work stood in contrast to other congressional probes, including one led by the House Intelligence Committee, that wound up marred by leaks, partisan infighting and politically divided conclusions. Burr and Warner declared their intention to present a consistently united front from the outset, and to only take investigative steps on which they both agreed.  

The committee has acknowledged recommending the special counsel open criminal probes after some witnesses appeared to give false or misleading testimony to investigators. In 2018, Burr said publicly that the committee had submitted criminal referrals to the Justice Department based on witness testimony. It remains unclear whether the department has acted on those recommendations.

Monday’s release comes as a separate probe led by U.S. Attorney John Durham — which focuses on the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia as well as, controversially, some of the intelligence community’s analytic work on Russia’s actions — is said to be nearing its final stages.  

On Friday, newly released court documents showed former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith would plead guilty to falsifying a document used to obtain surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser. They did not show that his actions were part of a broader conspiracy against the president, who has long decried scrutiny of his campaign’s links to Russia as a “hoax” or a “witch hunt.”  

The volume’s release also comes on the heels of an unprecedented warning from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia’s election interference efforts have continued into 2020, and that Moscow is actively seeking to “denigrate” the candidacy of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. China and Iran, which the intelligence community has assessed prefer Mr. Trump not win reelection, are also considering taking action aimed at the election. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee previously released four volumes of its final product. The first focused on election security and was made public in July 2019. It was followed by a second, released in October 2019, on the coordinated campaign Russia waged on social media. The third evaluated the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s efforts. And the fourth, released in April, evaluated the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment of Russia’s election interference and found the work to be “coherent and well-constructed.”

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