U.S. Senate committee concludes Russia used Manafort, WikiLeaks to boost Trump in 2016

by Reuters
Tuesday, 18 August 2020 23:23 GMT

(Adds Trump comment)

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Russia used Republican political operative Paul Manafort and the WikiLeaks website to try to help now-U.S. President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, a Republican-led Senate committee said in its final review of the matter on Tuesday.

WikiLeaks played a key role in Russia's effort to assist Republican Trump's campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton and likely knew it was helping Russian intelligence, said the 966-page report, which is likely to be the most definitive public account of the 2016 election controversy.

The report found President Vladimir Putin personally directed the Russian efforts to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Clinton.

Asked about the report at an event in Yuma, Arizona, Trump said: "I don't know anything about it. I didn't read it."

"It's all a hoax," Trump told reporters.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence alleged Manafort collaborated with Russians, including oligarch Oleg Deripaska and "Russian intelligence officer" Konstantin Kilimnik, before, during, and after the election.

The panel found Manafort's role and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence, saying his "high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services... represented a grave counterintelligence threat."

A lawyer for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment. WikiLeaks did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

It was not clear what effect, if any, the report might have on the current presidential campaign. Trump will face Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Nov. 3.

Russia's alleged election interference, which Moscow denies, sparked a two-year-long U.S. investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In a report released last year, Mueller found no conclusive evidence of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He cited 10 instances in which Trump may have tried to impede his probe but did not say if this constituted obstruction of justice.

COLLUSION?

Trump and his supporters have consistently bristled at suggestions foreign interference helped his upset 2016 victory. They have sought to discredit the intelligence agencies' findings as the politically charged work of a "deep state."

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh on Tuesday said the report vindicated his stance that there was no "collusion" between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said Trump had welcomed Russian assistance in 2016 "with open arms."

"Donald Trump may believe that the Russian government should have a say in our elections, but it is for the American people to decide," Bates said.

Founded by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks published thousands of emails hacked from Clinton's campaign and a top campaign aide in the weeks before the 2016 election, yielding a drumbeat of negative coverage about the Democrat.

As Russian military intelligence and WikiLeaks released the hacked documents, the report said Trump's campaign sought advance notice, devised messaging strategies to amplify them "and encouraged further theft of information and ... leaks."

"The Trump campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort," the report added.

The report said Trump's campaign tried to get advance information about WikiLeaks' planned releases from his adviser Roger Stone, but the committee could not establish the extent to which Stone had inside access to WikiLeaks materials.

The panel said it had referred "potential criminal activity" it uncovered to law enforcement. An annex on the matter was fully redacted.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Daphne Psaledakis and Andrea Shalal; Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O'Brien, Alistair Bell and Sonya Hepinstall)

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