Despite Putin denial, CIA stands by assessment of Russian election interference
Although President Donald Trump said Saturday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of interference in the 2016 election, the CIA has reaffirmed its conclusion that the Kremlin was responsible for efforts to influence the race.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he discussed the matter with Putin earlier in the day at a summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump said. “But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russian hackers and internet trolls attempted to impact the election and sow chaos in the U.S. under direction from Putin. Trump’s latest skeptical comments on the matter left the CIA seemingly at odds with the president.
"The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections," the CIA told CNN in a statement. "The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed."
In that document, the CIA and FBI expressed “high confidence” that the Russian government favored Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and that Putin directed efforts to “harm her electability and potential presidency.” The National Security Agency had “moderate confidence” that Russia aimed to boost Trump.
“Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” the assessment said.
On Saturday, Trump dismissed the officials who led the CIA, FBI, and Office of National Intelligence at the time the assessment was produced as “political hacks,” seeming to suggest he trusts Putin more than the former heads of the U.S. intelligence community.
“You look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey,” he said. “Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them."
Trump fired Comey in May, a decision for which the administration has provided conflicting justifications, and the president has repeatedly attacked Comey for sharing details of their conversations with the New York Times through a friend.
After defending Putin, Trump attempted to shift attention to Democrats, who he claimed are creating an “artificial barrier” in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
"Having a good relationship with Russia's a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way," Trump said. "People will die because of it."
Democrats did not take kindly to Trump’s attacks, blasting him for backing up Putin and besmirching his own intelligence agencies.
“The president fools no one,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “He understands that the Russians intervened through the hacking and dumping of his opponent’s emails, the fruits of which he exploited time and again on the campaign trail. He understands that they mounted an unprecedented effort on social media to help him, hurt Clinton and divide and damage the country he is now supposed to serve,”
“@RealDonaldTrump, Maybe you should get your daily intelligence briefing from the Kremlin since you trust Putin more than American intelligence agencies,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, another member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called Trump’s refusal to accept the findings of the intelligence community “dangerous.”
“President Trump shld put American nat’l security first instead of being solicitous of a KGB thug who attacked our democracy&elections,” he said in a tweet.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Trump’s behavior was “frightening on so many levels.”
“He has done nothing to protect us from another Russian attack and is now actively making America less safe,” Durbin tweeted. “When will his GOP enablers in Congress take a stand for their country?”
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump in January after refusing to defend his travel ban, said the president telling the world he believes Putin was “Disturbing and shamelessly unpatriotic, on Veterans Day no less.”