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CIA reasserts Putin is likely directing election influence efforts to aid Trump

  • MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV, SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL PHOTO VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday. Putin is most likely continuing to approve and direct interference operations aimed at raising President Donald Trump’s reelection chances, a recent CIA analysis concluded

    MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV, SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL PHOTO VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday. Putin is most likely continuing to approve and direct interference operations aimed at raising President Donald Trump’s reelection chances, a recent CIA analysis concluded

WASHINGTON >> President Vladimir Putin of Russia is most likely continuing to approve and direct interference operations aimed at raising President Donald Trump’s reelection chances, a recent CIA analysis concluded, a signal that intelligence agencies continue to back their assessment of Russian activities despite the president’s attacks.

The assessment was disseminated in support of sanctions imposed this month on Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who has spread information critical of former Vice President Joe Biden. It is consistent with intelligence officials’ warning to lawmakers in January that Russia was interfering on Trump’s behalf, a briefing that outraged Republicans and eventually helped oust Joseph Maguire from his post as acting director of national intelligence.

The CIA has moderate confidence in its analysis, a lower degree of certainty than its 2016 assessment of Putin’s preferences, in part because the intelligence community appears to lack intercepted communications or other direct evidence confirming his direction of Derkach’s efforts. Putin, a former intelligence agent, is careful not to use electronic devices.

According to people familiar with the matter, the new analysis was published ahead of the sanctions in the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, a classified document that circulates to members of Congress and the Trump administration. The Washington Post earlier reported the assessment.

Putin’s direction, national security officials have said, should be of little surprise. Russia has become an authoritarian country under him, and little in its foreign affairs occurs without his knowledge or blessing, U.S. officials have repeatedly said.

Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics have continued steadily since 2016, even if the volume of disinformation has ebbed and flowed. But the CIA’s lower level of confidence in the new assessment allows Trump and his allies to treat the allegations of Putin’s involvement as unproven.

For years, many Republicans have taken issue with the CIA analysis of Russian interference. John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, who was an outspoken supporter of Trump while a member of Congress, and other Republicans have argued that Putin’s goal is to sow chaos, not to favor one candidate over another.

And Trump himself remains hostile to arguments that Russia is intervening to support him. After the FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, testified last week that Russia was trying to sow discord in the United States and “denigrate Vice President Biden,” Trump chastised him publicly, saying he should have also emphasized China’s election interference efforts.

U.S. intelligence officials say that while China opposes Trump’s reelection, Beijing has not mounted significant covert efforts to hamper the president’s campaign.

But intelligence officials said there is little doubt that Putin is broadly orchestrating Russian campaigns and has continued to allow his intelligence operatives to try to influence U.S. politics.

The key questions that U.S. intelligence agencies have not answered are the extent of Russia’s effort and how open Putin wants to be about it.

In a statement in August, William R. Evanina, the intelligence official in charge of election interference briefings, said that Russia was trying to influence the election by denigrating Biden. Evanina cited information released by Derkach.

Evanina was set to brief members of Congress’ intelligence committees this week. Ratcliffe had sought to block in-person testimony to Congress, citing leaks. But faced with criticism from Republicans and Democrats, Ratcliffe modified his position to block only all-member briefings.

Some officials have said the recent CIA assessment demonstrates that the agency remains willing to push intelligence that Trump disagrees with. His administration has also taken action to try to raise awareness of Russian activities.

The Treasury Department on Sept. 10 described Derkach as “an active Russian agent” with ties to Moscow’s intelligence services and said he was involved in efforts to influence elections. He released doctored tapes of Biden that U.S. officials have said were edited to mislead the public.

U.S. intelligence agencies have tried to track his efforts to push information critical of Biden to lobbyists and members of Congress, information that was included in the CIA assessment, according to a person familiar with the matter. Derkach denies that he works on behalf of Russia.

The president has pushed various theories about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election and has supported efforts to raise questions about the work that Biden’s son Hunter did for a Ukrainian energy company, namely a Senate investigation led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., that Democrats have warned is the target of Russian disinformation.

Biden’s campaign has criticized Republicans in Congress for investigating his ties to Ukraine and his son’s work for the energy company. Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesman, today said some members of Congress “have chosen to be accessories to foreign influence operations” and attacked Trump’s Russia policy.

“As Joe Biden has said for months, it is absolutely clear who Vladimir Putin wants to win this election — because Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been a gift to the Kremlin,” Bates said.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who has led the efforts to gather information about Biden’s work in Ukraine, has taken information from Derkach. However, the recent CIA analysis did not cite Giuliani by name, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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