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WASHINGTON — For years, President Donald Trump has derided the assessment by American intelligence officials that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to assist his candidacy, dismissing it without evidence as the work of a “deep state” out to undermine his victory.
But Tuesday, a long-awaited Senate review led by members of Trump’s own party effectively undercut those allegations. A three-year review by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously found that the intelligence community assessment, pinning blame on Russia and outlining its goals to undercut American democracy, was fundamentally sound and untainted by politics.
“The ICA reflects strong tradecraft, sound analytical reasoning and proper justification of disagreement in the one analytical line where it occurred,” said Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., the panel’s chairman.
The endorsement by Burr’s committee comes at a key moment for the intelligence agencies. Not only has Trump moved in recent months to install a loyalist in the top spy position, but Attorney General William Barr has also blessed a broad review of possible misconduct by investigators examining the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, apparently including work by intelligence officials.
The federal prosecutor whom Barr appointed to review the government’s response to Russian election interference, John H. Durham, is examining whether the CIA or other intelligence agencies overstated President Vladimir Putin’s support of the Trump campaign, a central finding of the 2017 assessment.
Some of Trump’s allies immediately criticized the Senate report; Fred Fleitz, a former CIA officer who briefly served in the Trump administration, dismissed it as “a whitewash.” Many Republicans believe that the intelligence agencies overstated Russia’s support for Trump and argue that Moscow was trying to sow chaos in the United States, not support any one candidate.
The Senate Intelligence Committee had already given the work of the CIA and the FBI an interim stamp of approval, but the 158-page report released Tuesday presented new detail about the government’s attempts in late 2016 and early 2017 to make sense of Russia’s attacks. Much of the report’s contents were considered highly sensitive and blacked out by the Trump administration before release.
In their report, senators essentially said they had asked the same questions that Durham is now examining and found that the intelligence agencies’ work stood up, even if it was conducted in a compressed time frame to be finished before President Barack Obama left office in January 2017.