17 May 2018

US senators: 'No doubt' Russia sought to interfere in US election

7:20 am on 17 May 2018

The leaders of the US Senate Intelligence Committee said on Wednesday they agreed with intelligence agencies' assessment that Moscow sought to interfere with the 2016 US election to boost Donald Trump's prospects of becoming president.

November 11, 2017 US President Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Danang, Vietnam.

 / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV

Donald Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV

"There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections," the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr, said in a joint statement with the committee's top Democrat after a closed hearing on the issue.

"After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the (intelligence community) conclusions were accurate and on point," Senator Mark Warner said.

"The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President (Vladimir) Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton," Warner said.

Their backing of intelligence agencies' findings contrasted with the assertion weeks earlier by House of Representatives Republicans that Russia had not sought to boost then-Republican candidate Trump, who went on to win the election.

The allegations, and multiple investigations into the matter, have shadowed the first 16 months of Trump's presidency.

Russia has denied seeking to interfere in the election and Trump has disputed suggestions that Moscow was working on his behalf.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers testified at the hearing. Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, was invited but did not appear.

Senate Intelligence undertook one of three main congressional probes of Russia and the 2016 election, along with the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into the matter.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House panel, said he agreed with the Senate panel's conclusion.

Over the objections of Democrats, Republicans who control a majority on the House committee announced in March that the panel had concluded its work and found that Russia did not aim to assist Trump.

'I love it'

The Senate panel also released documents on a June 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign aides and a Russian delegation promising political "dirt".

The 2,500 pages of transcripts include interviews with Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, who met a Russian lawyer ahead of the 2016 election.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, denies working on behalf of Moscow.

The meeting is a part of an ongoing probe by the US Department of Justice into alleged Russia meddling in 2016.

The documents show:

  • After the British music publicist who arranged the meeting, Rob Goldstone, suggested he had access to "official documents and information that would incriminate" Democrat Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump Jr replied in an email saying "if it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer". In his Senate interview, Mr Trump Jr called his use of the phrase a "colloquial term" to say "great, thank you" for "potential information about an opponent" - namely, Hillary Clinton.
  • Donald Trump Jr received a call from a blocked number on 6 June, three days before the meeting. It lasted four minutes and came sandwiched between two phone calls Mr Trump Jr had with Emin Agalarov, an Azerbaijani-Russian businessman and music star who was pushing for the Trump Tower meeting. When asked whether the call might have been the president, who is known to use a blocked number, Mr Trump Jr replied: "I don't know."
  • Mr Trump Jr has repeatedly said he did not know of any direct involvement by his father in drafting an explanation for the meeting that subsequently turned out to be untrue. But he did say "he may have commented through Hope Hicks", his former spokeswoman.
  • Mr Manafort, who was the campaign manager at the time of the meeting, took brief notes during the meeting, which included words like "Offshore - Cyprus", "133m shares" and "Illici".
  • Mr Goldstone said his client Emin Agalarov, Azerbaijan's biggest pop star and son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, pressured him into setting up the meeting with Mr Trump Jr - even after Mr Goldstone said it was "a really bad idea". "He said, 'it doesn't matter. You just need to get the meeting.'"

- BBC/Reuters

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