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Republican-led Senate committee backs U.S. intelligence findings on Russian interference

A bipartisan Senate report released Tuesday confirms the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to sow chaos. Senators warned that it could happen again this presidential election year.

In contrast to bipartisan work in Senate Intelligence, House committees have been bitterly divided

North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, right, chairman of the Senate's intelligence committee, is shown with Virginia Democrat, also on the committee, in 2019 in Washington. Burr said the panel 'found no reason to dispute' the intelligence community's conclusions. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

A bipartisan Senate report released Tuesday confirms the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to sow chaos. Senators warned that it could happen again this presidential election year.

The heavily redacted report from the Senate Intelligence Committee is part of the panel's more than three-year investigation into the Russian interference. The intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that Russians had engaged in cyber-espionage and distributed messages through Russian-controlled propaganda outlets to undermine public faith in the democratic process, hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the assessment, which was also confirmed by former special counsel Robert Mueller in his report last year. Mueller concluded that Russian interference was "sweeping and systematic," but he did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Mueller did specify, however, several examples in which the Trump campaign was receptive to apparent efforts to help from Russian actors. In subsequent testimony, Mueller answered in the affirmative to a Republican lawmaker's questioning on whether he believed there was enough evidence to charge Trump with a crime — specifically, obstruction of justice — after the president left office.

Read the Senate's redacted report:

The first 3 volumes of the committee's findings can be found here.

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Republican Richard Burr, the committee's chair, said in a statement that his panel "found no reason to dispute" the intelligence community's conclusions, saying they reflected strong tradecraft and analytical reasoning. He said the agencies' conclusion that such election interference is "the new normal" has been borne out in the three years since it was published.

"With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it's more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors," Burr said.

The Senate report endorsed the core conclusions of the intelligence community assessment that Russia had interfered on a grand scale in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the interference.

"The Committee found that specific intelligence as well as open source assessments support the assessment that President Putin approved and directed aspects of this influence campaign," the Senate report states.

The panel also said it found that the intelligence community had presented sufficient information to support its conclusion that Russia had developed a preference for Trump over Clinton in the election.

The Senate report includes a two-page statement from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who says the committee's work makes clear that the intelligence community's findings on Russian interference are "not a 'hoax"' just because Putin denies it.

"Russian interference in the 2016 election is a fact, and Donald Trump's deference to Putin only serves to further Russian disinformation and undermine efforts to defend the United States against ongoing attacks," Wyden wrote.

Steele 'dossier' considered a red herring

In contrast to the level of co-operation in the Senate, House investigations into similar subject matter devolved into bouts of partisan rancour and duelling, conflicting reports.

Republican representatives in the House, such as Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan, have provided a staunch defence of Trump's views of a biased conspiracy against the candidate, with frequent references to the so-called Steele dossier, which was raw intelligence compiled by a former British spy working on behalf of Fusion GPS, a research company at first hired by Republican operatives and then Democratic ones as Trump made his way to the general election.

Christopher Steele's work become known to a small number of individuals in the FBI and Justice Department in 2016, but Tuesday's report concluded that information provided by Steele to the FBI did not form the basis of "analytic judgments" by U.S. intelligence.

"All individuals the Committee interviewed stated that the Steele material did not in any way inform the analysis in the [Intelligence Community Assessment] — including the key judgments — because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.

Adam Schiff, Democratic chair of the House's intelligence committee, was quick with a rebuke on Twitter after the Senate report was published.

"Only President Trump and House Republicans to deny the truth," said Schiff.

The final report comes almost two years after the panel first released its findings agreeing with the intelligence community's 2017 conclusions. The report was delayed as intelligence agencies reviewed it for declassification, and much of the report remains redacted. To write the report, the committee reviewed thousands of pages of documents and conducted interviews with intelligence officials.

This is the fourth of five reports the Senate panel will release on the meddling. Previous reports reviewed Russian efforts to breach state election systems and manipulate social media, and made recommendations to prevent more interference in the future. Another examined the mistakes of former President Barack Obama's administration as Russia interfered.

The committee's fifth, and final, report will examine counterintelligence findings, including whether Trump's campaign conspired with Russia. It's unclear when that will be released.

After the release of the report on Tuesday, House Democrat Val Demings of Florida welcomed the findings and said she hoped Republicans would "finally join us to make election security a priority" ahead of the Nov. 3 vote.

With files from CBC News

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