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Russia meddled in poll, agree US intelligence agencies

07 January 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin set out to undermine the 2016 US election and discredit former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an unprecedented "influence campaign", eventually deciding to help the chances of President-elect Donald Trump, according to a declassified report by the US intelligence community.

"Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability," according to the report, released late on Friday.

"We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report continued, adding, "Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible."

The release of the report by the top three US intelligence agencies came just hours after intelligence chiefs gave a classified briefing to Trump in New York. Outgoing President Barack Obama, who ordered the report, was briefed on the material Thursday.

In the report, both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation state they have "high confidence" in their conclusions. A third intelligence branch, the National Security Agency, while in agreement, said it had only "moderate" confidence in the findings.

Late Friday, Trump, rather than criticising Putin and Russia for interfering in an American election, posted a tweet that blames the Democrats for being hacked.

''Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place,'' Trump tweeted.
He further tweeted that ''The Republican National Committee had strong defence,'' without making any reference to Russia's election tampering.

Trump called his briefing Friday "constructive", but maintained in a statement that any efforts by Russia or other countries to interfere with the US election had "absolutely no effect on the outcome".

Trump also promised to appoint a team to come up with a plan to combat cyberattacks on the US by Russia and China, as well as from other countries and entities, within 90 days of his inauguration.

"America's safety and security will be my No 1 priority," Trump said in the statement. "The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm."

Earlier Friday, however, Trump characterized the intelligence community's insistence that Russia interfered in the elections as a "political witch hunt" during an interview with The New York Times, saying it was being carried out by opponents who were still upset about losing to him.

His failure to fully endorse the US intelligence community's findings even after the briefing is likely to stir further controversy.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest went so far as to question Trump's motives, citing a series of tweets by the president-elect.

"His concerns are about something other than protecting classified information," Earnest said Friday. "What those concerns are is something that I'll let him articulate."

Some US lawmakers who have also been briefed on the classified version of the report have come away with far different determinations.

"Suffice to say, it's stunning in its conclusions," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Another Democrat, Representative Bennie Thompson, said the classified report "presents compelling evidence" of Russian interference.

The ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee also said it was "stunning and quite shameful that the president-elect has instead put his energy towards impugning the intelligence community he will soon be overseeing."

"This is a troubling chapter in an ongoing story," Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Friday.

"The Intelligence Community's report on Russian activities and intentions in recent US elections highlights for the American people the direct and aggressive covert influence campaign conducted against our nation," said Burr, a Republican. "I expect that out our nation's leaders will counter these activities appropriately."

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