The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have said the NSA, CIA, and FBI got it wrong when they assessed that the point of Russia’s 2016 election interference was to harm Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. But now their counterpart in the Senate, in a bipartisan report, said the intelligence agencies got it right.
In April, the House Intelligence Committee Republicans put out an extensive report exonerating Trump from accusations of collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivering a conclusion that Democrats had come to consider pre-ordained. Democrats quickly distanced themselves from it. Chief panel Democrat Adam Schiff said at the time that the GOP report suffered from a “raft of misleading conclusions, insinuations, attempts to explain away inconvenient facts, and arguments meant to protect the President and his campaign.”
One of the key findings of the GOP report, led by critical White House ally Devin Nunes of California, was that the three intelligence agencies erred in their assessment of “Putin’s strategic intentions” behind his election interference. Nunes’ report struck a delicate balance. It conceded that the election interference happened and that most of the intelligence community analysis (ICA) “held up to scrutiny,” but accused the agencies of not meeting their own standards for tradecraft.
“While most of the analysis contained in the ICA held up to scrutiny,” Nunes’ report held, “the committee found that ICA judgments on Putin’s strategic objectives”—that is to say defeating Clinton and electing Trump—“failed to meet most of the analytic standards set forth in the primary guiding document for IC analysis, Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) 203.” Such shortfalls “undermine confidence,” Nunes’ report continued, but they weren’t listed as problems with the underlying circumstances of the Russian campaign. Nunes and company instead faulted the agencies for not “incorporat[ing] analysis of alternatives” or more fulsomely explaining the differences in confidence levels between the NSA, FBI, and CIA.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, however, reached a much firmer conclusion: The January 2017 intelligence community was right to find the Russians meddled in the election to defeat Clinton and aid Trump.
“The Committee found that the ICA provided a range of all-source reporting to support these assessments,” it found. “A body of reporting,” from classified intelligence to Russian media, “showed that Moscow sought to denigrate Secretary Clinton.” The ICA finding on Putin’s objectives used similarly cumulative Russian media, similarities between Trump positions and Putin’s interests “and a body of intelligence reporting to support the assessment that Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for Trump.”
Information “obtained subsequent to the publication of the ICA provides further support” for what the CIA called a Russian aspiration “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible,” the Senate panel found.
As for the internal analytic disagreement on Putin’s pro-Trump/anti-Clinton objectives—NSA had “moderate confidence” in it; CIA and FBI had “high confidence”—the committee, chaired by North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, found no evidence of analytic malpractice.
“The analytical disagreement was reasonable, transparent and openly debated among the agencies and analysts, with analysts, managers and agency heads on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions,” the Senate committee wrote.
Nunes’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The committee has spent the last 16 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work underpinning the Intelligence Community Assessment and sees no reason to dispute the conclusions,” Burr said in a Tuesday statement. “The committee continues its investigation and I am hopeful that this installment of the committee’s work will soon be followed by additional summaries providing the American people with clarity around Russia’s activities regarding U.S. elections.”
It’s not the first time a high-profile inquiry into the 2016 election has contradicted Nunes’ findings. In February, before Nunes’ report, Mueller indicted the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency. Among the claims Mueller made in the indictment: “Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”
As well, the Senate panel found that the so-called Steele Dossier—a bete noire on the right, to include Nunes’ committee and other Trump allies—“remained separate from the conclusions of the ICA.” Though the Dossier’s financial connections to the Democratic Party have made it a sort of Rosetta Stone on the right for determining the fundamental fraudulence underpinning all aspects of Trump-Russia collusion allegations, “the dossier did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA—including the key findings—because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.”