WASHINGTON • A secret CIA assessment has found that Russia sought to tip last month's United States presidential election in Mr Donald Trump's favour, The Washington Post has reported, a conclusion that drew an extraordinary rebuke from the President-elect's camp.
"These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," Mr Trump's transition team said, blasting the US spy agency. "The election ended... in one of the biggest electoral college victories in history. It's now time to move on and 'Make America Great Again'."
The report last Friday came after President Barack Obama ordered a review of all cyber attacks during the 2016 election cycle, amid growing calls from Congress for more information on the extent of Russian interference in the campaign.
The Post cited officials briefed on the matter as saying that people with ties to Moscow provided anti- secrecy website WikiLeaks with e-mails hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chief and others.
Those e-mails were steadily revealed via WikiLeaks in the months before the election, damaging Mrs Clinton's White House run.
It is... far from clear that Russia's original intent was to support Mr Trump, and many intelligence officials... believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.
THE NEW YORK TIMES, on when Russia really started to actively support Mr Trump's campaign.
The Russians' aim was to help Mr Trump win and not just undermine the US electoral process. "It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia's goal was to favour one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected," the Post quoted a senior US official briefed on an intelligence presentation last week to key senators as saying. "That's the consensus view."
CIA agents told the lawmakers it was "quite clear" that electing Mr 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, according to The New York Times.
"We now have high confidence that they hacked the DNC and the RNC (Republican National Committee), and conspicuously released no documents" from the Republican organisation, the Times cited one senior administration official as saying, referring to the Russians.
The Times also questioned when Russia started backing Mr 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," the report 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.
For example, intelligence agents do not have proof that Russian officials directed the identified individuals to supply WikiLeaks with the hacked Democratic e-mails.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied links with Russia's government.
Those individuals were "one step" removed from the Russian government, which is consistent with past practices by Moscow to use "middlemen" in sensitive intelligence operations to preserve plausible deniability, the report said.
"I'll be the first one to come out and point at Russia if there's clear evidence, but there is no clear evidence - even now," said California Republican congressman Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the Trump transition team.