WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s presidential transition team on Saturday challenged the veracity of U.S. intelligence assessments that Russia was trying to tip the November election to the Republican. A top Senate Democrat demanded a full congressional investigation.
The CIA has now concluded with “high confidence” that Moscow was not only interfering with the election, but that its actions were intended to help Trump, according to a senior U.S. official. The assessment is based in part on evidence that Russian actors had hacked Republicans as well as Democrats but were only releasing information to WikiLeaks that was harmful to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
The official was not authorized to discuss the private intelligence assessment publicly and insisted on anonymity.
Trump’s public dismissal of the CIA assessment raises questions about how he will treat information from intelligence agencies as president. His view also puts Republicans in the position of choosing between the incoming president and the intelligence community.
In a statement late Friday, Trump’s transition team said the finger-pointing at Russia was coming from “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
“To have the president-elect of the United States simply reject the fact-based narrative that the intelligence community puts together because it conflicts with his a priori assumptions — wow,” said Michael Hayden, who was the director of the National Security Agency and later the CIA under former President George W. Bush.
On Saturday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN that there were “people within these agencies who are upset with the outcome of the election.”
Spicer denied a New York Times report that Russia had broken into the Republican National Committee’s computer networks. The U.S. official who disclosed the CIA assessment to The Associated Press said only that Republican entities had been targeted during the election.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would press for a congressional investigation in the new year.
“That any country could be meddling in our elections should shake both political parties to their core,” he said. “It’s imperative that our intelligence community turns over any relevant information so that Congress can conduct a full investigation.”
Schumer added that silence from WikiLeaks and others has been “deafening.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said in a television interview last month that the “Russian government is not the source.”
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have also said they plan to pursue investigations into Russian election interference. Other Republicans have played down the reports. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas wrote on Twitters on Saturday that Russian hacking had been going on for years. He said the matter was “serious, but hardly news.”
There was no immediate official response from Moscow. But Oleg Morozov, a member of the foreign relations committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, dismissed the claim of Russian interference as “silliness and paranoia,” according to the RIA Novosti news agency. Morozov described the allegations as an attempt to force the next administration to stick to President Barack Obama’s anti-Russian course.
Obama ordered a full-scale review of campaign-season cyberattacks to be completed before he leaves office in January. The investigation will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyberactivity” timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign.
That investigation will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.
The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations.
In the months leading up to the election, email accounts of Democratic Party officials and a top Clinton campaign aide were breached, emails leaked and embarrassing and private emails posted online. Many Democrats believe the hacks benefited Trump’s bid.
Schultz said the president sought the probe as a way of improving U.S. defense against cyberattacks and was not intending to question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory.
“This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election,” Schultz said, stressing that officials would also be reviewing incidents going back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when the campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Obama were breached by hackers.
Intelligence officials have said Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyberattacks four years later.
The White House said it would make portions of its report public and would brief lawmakers and relevant state officials on the findings.
Many members of both major parties said Russia had likely been hacking American presidential hopefuls.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a vocal Trump supporter, blamed Obama’s administration for failing “to anticipate Putin’s hostile actions” without mentioning Trump’s position that Obama has been too tough on Putin.
“Unfortunately the Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous Intelligence Committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression,” Nunes said in a statement. “It appears, however, that after eight years the administration has suddenly awoken to the threat.”
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, also said there was little doubt the Russian government was involved in hacking the DNC.
“All of the intelligence analysts who looked at it came to the conclusion that the tradecraft was very similar to the Russians,” he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Clinton’s running mate, said he’s pleased the Obama administration is investigating. Asked about the Trump team’s statement, Kaine said in an interview, “Sounds like they’re nervous about what they might find.”
Information for this article was contributed by Julie Pace, Kathleen Hennessey and Vladimir Isachenkov of The Associated Press; by Chris Strohm of Bloomberg News; by David E. Sanger of The New York Times; and by Ellen Nakashima, Kristine Guerra, Adam Entous and Greg Miller of The Washington Post.