Washington (AFP) – Republicans on Saturday rejected reports about a secret CIA assessment finding that Russia sought to tip the US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor, as a Democratic Senate leader called for an investigation.
“The intelligence is wrong,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN. “It didn’t happen.”
He was referring to a New York Times report saying US intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that Russian hackers infiltrated the Republican National Committee’s computer systems as well as Democratic Party’s, but released information taken only from Democratic computers.
News about the CIA report, first reported by The Washington Post on Friday, drew an extraordinary rebuke from the president-elect’s camp on Friday.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Trump’s transition team said, launching a broadside against the spy agency.
“The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”
Democrats in Congress pushed back against Republican denials on Saturday, with Senator Chuck Schumer, set to become Democratic minority leader in January, calling for a congressional investigation.
“That any country could be meddling in our elections should shake both political parties to their core,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “It’s imperative that our intelligence community turns over any relevant information so that Congress can conduct a full investigation.”
‘Help Trump get elected’
The reports come after President Barack Obama ordered a review of all cyberattacks that took place during the 2016 election cycle, amid growing calls from Democrats in Congress for more information about the extent of Russian interference in the campaign.
The Washington Post cited officials briefed on the matter as saying individuals with connections to Moscow provided anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks with emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief and others.
WikiLeaks steadily released those emails in the months before the election, damaging Clinton’s White House run.
The Russians’ aim was to help Donald Trump win, not just undermine the US electoral process, the paper reported.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” the newspaper quoted a senior US official briefed on an intelligence presentation to key senators last week as saying. “That’s the consensus view.”
CIA agents told the lawmakers it was “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to officials who spoke to the Post, citing growing evidence from multiple sources.
Russian hackers did not limit their hits to the Democrats, The New York Times reported.
“We now have high confidence that they hacked the D.N.C. and the R.N.C., and conspicuously released no documents” from the Republican organization, the Times cited one senior administration official as saying, referring to the Russians.
The Times also questioned when Russia had started supporting Trump.
“It is… far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote,” it said.
However, some questions remain unanswered and the CIA’s assessment fell short of a formal US assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies, the newspaper said.
Intelligence agents don’t have proof that Russian officials directed the identified individuals to supply WikiLeaks with the hacked Democratic emails.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied links with Russia’s government.
California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team also weighed in on Saturday, saying he “does not believe the evidence shows that the Russians interfered in the elections in order to help Trump,” a spokesman told AFP.
At the White House, however, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Obama called for the cyberattacks review earlier this week to ensure “the integrity of our elections.”
Obama wants the report completed before his term ends on January 20.
Calls for investigations
But Democrats in Congress were more strident, calling on intelligence agencies to provide all information about Russian hacking and disinformation in the election.
The current minority leader, Senator Harry Reid, accused FBI director James Comey of knowing about Russian hacking into the Republican servers “for a long time.”
“But he, Comey, who’s a Republican, refused to divulge this information about Russia interfering with the presidential election,” Reid told MSNBC, accusing the FBI director of being “the new J. Edgar Hoover.”
“I think he should be investigated,” he added.
Clinton has blamed Comey for her loss last month, saying his decision during the campaign’s final weeks to re-open a probe into her email use as secretary of state broke her momentum toward victory.
Previous intelligence reports have accused Russia of seeking to undermine the US election, without saying Moscow aimed to favor one or another candidate.
Trump dismissed those findings in an interview published Wednesday by Time magazine. Asked if the intelligence was politicized, Trump answered: “I think so.”
“I don’t believe they interfered,” he said. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”