US spy chiefs insisted Thursday they have strong evidence that Russia mounted an unprecedented bid to disrupt the American election, standing firm in the face of Donald Trump’s refusal to accept their conclusions.
One day before the heads of four top intelligence bodies brief the president-elect on their assessment of Russian meddling in last year’s race, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate hearing he had “very high” confidence in their findings.
“The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections, theirs and other people’s,” he told the Armed Services Committee. “But we have never encountered such a direct campaign to interfere with the election process as we have seen in this case.”
“This was a multifaceted campaign. So the hacking was only one part of it, and it also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”
Clapper, National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers and Marcel Lettre, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the committee in a joint statement that “only Russia’s senior-most officials” could have authorized the operation, in which hackers stole Democratic Party files and emails.
Those files were then disseminated via WikiLeaks, embarrassing the party and harming losing candidate Hillary Clinton’s White House effort.
“Russia has clearly assumed an even more aggressive cyber posture by increasing cyber espionage operations, leaking data stolen from these operations and targeting critical infrastructure systems,” Clapper said.
Trump, who has pledged a rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia after taking office on January 20, has repeatedly dismissed that finding.
The Republican has mocked via Twitter past intelligence errors of the CIA, FBI and other agencies, challenging them to prove that the hacking and leaks could be traced up to the top of Putin’s government.
Late Thursday, he again asked “how and why are they so sure about hacking,” claiming that the DNC prevented the FBI from accessing their servers. BuzzFeed News reported that the FBI had in fact never asked to examine them.
As Trump first raised doubts early last month, President Barack Obama ordered the intelligence community to produce a comprehensive report on cyberattacks and Russian interference in the election.
Obama was briefed on the report Thursday, and Clapper, Rogers, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan are expected to detail it to Trump on Friday.
US officials familiar with the report told CNN that the liaisons who delivered the stolen emails from Russia to WikiLeaks had been identified.
And US intelligence agencies intercepted communications from senior Russian officials indicating they had celebrated Trump’s victory as a win for Moscow, according to a report in The Washington Post.
An unclassified version of the report presented to the president — stripped of sensitive details — will be released to the public early next week.