WASHINGTON • Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a vast cyber attack aimed at denying Mrs Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Mr Donald Trump in the Oval Office, top US intelligence agencies have said in an extraordinary report.
These conclusions were presented to Mr Trump in a briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America's intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal sceptic, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia's role in his election win.
In response, Mr Trump acknowledged the possibility that Russia was behind the hacks but offered no indication that he was prepared to accept the conclusion that Moscow sought to help him win, noting "there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines".
In a series of tweets yesterday, he said that having a good relationship with Russia was "no bad thing" and that "only 'stupid' people, or fools, would think that it is bad!" He also said that Russia would respect the US more when he is president.
Soon after Friday's meeting, which came just two weeks before Mr Trump's Jan 20 inauguration, officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cyber campaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions.
KEY FINDINGS OF REPORT
• Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow had hoped to improve Mr Donald Trump's election chances by discrediting Mrs Hillary Clinton and contrasting her unfavourably to him.
• A multipronged campaign was waged involving hacking as well as propaganda and the use of social media and "trolls" to encourage opposition to Mrs Clinton. • Probes of US electoral systems began in early 2014, carried through the election, and may still be underway. Russian intelligence agencies first gained access to Democratic National Committee networks in July 2015
• US intelligence agencies concluded with "high confidence" that Russian intelligence services penetrated numerous computer systems tied to US political parties and "relayed" the e-mail troves to WikiLeaks.
• The report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election in Mr Trump's favour.
NY TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, NBC NEWS
The report - a virtually unheard- of, real-time revelation by the intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them - makes the case that Mr Trump was the favoured candidate of Mr Putin.
Mr Putin sought to denigrate Mrs Clinton, and the report details what the officials had revealed to President Barack Obama a day earlier: Mr Trump's victory followed a complicated, multipart cyber information attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.
But the 25-page report does not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr Trump.
It traces interference efforts that began with inconspicuous probes of US electoral systems in early 2014, carried through the election, and may still be underway.
Russian intelligence agencies first gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks in July 2015, the report says.
Russia's military intelligence service, known as the GRU, "probably" expanded its efforts in March 2016, targeting the e-mail accounts of Democratic Party officials and other political figures. By May, the GRU had stolen "large volumes of data from the DNC".
Then, chunks of that trove began to appear on websites including WikiLeaks, generating headlines that embarrassed the Democrats.
"Putin and the Russian government aspired to help" Mr Trump's election chances when possible by "discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavourably to him", the report concludes.
TRUMP'S STATEMENT, AFTER THE BRIEFING
While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations including the Democratic National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.
'' ON RUSSIAN HACKING, BEFORE THE INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING
These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 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.'
MR TRUMP'S TWEET, on a Washington Post report about a CIA assessment that Russia tried to help him win, on Dec 9, 2016.
The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia... So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?
MR TRUMP'S TWEET, on Jan 5, 2017.
Mr Trump, whose resistance to that very conclusion has led him to repeatedly mock the US intelligence services on Twitter since election day on Nov 8, issued a written statement that appeared to concede some Russian involvement.
The President-elect's statement came just hours after he told The New York Times that the storm surrounding Russian hacking was nothing more than a "political witch hunt" by his adversaries.
After the meeting, he appeared to moderate his position, conceding that "Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations, including the Democratic National Committee".
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST