WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee this week released some bold findings at a cowardly time, which is why you might have missed them.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 3 – when many Americans were paying more attention to their Independence Day plans than to the news – the panel said what every American, including the one who benefited the most, should accept as fact by now. Republicans and Democrats on that panel agreed that Russia tried to steer the 2016 presidential election to Republican Donald Trump.
"Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," the preliminary written report concluded. "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
So there you have it: The very same conclusion that the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached in a report in January 2017 – and the very same conclusion that President Trump continues to deny.
The Senate panel's report is a preliminary one; it plans to release more details as it continues its Russia investigation. But still, the Senate report is an important, informative document, though it is couched in bureaucratese.
Here are its central conclusions, translated from bureaucratese:
• "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) is conducting a bipartisan investigation into a wide range of Russian activities relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential election." This means the Senate Intelligence panel is taking a decidedly different approach than its House counterpart. Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are working together and reaching bipartisan conclusions, whereas the House Intelligence Committee is divided along party lines.
So who do you trust? House Republicans who claim there was "no collusion" between Russia and the Trump campaign when the intelligence community didn't even examine collusion? House Democrats who rejected the Republicans' conclusions? Or the seven Republicans and six Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee?
• "The ICA is a sound intelligence product." The ICA stands for "Intelligence Community Assessment," that January 2017 report from the CIA, NSA and FBI that said the Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The Senate panel, which includes highly regarded Republicans such as Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, basically said those intelligence agencies got it right. What's more, the Senate report said: "The committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions."
• "The ICA states that Russia's state-run propaganda machine...contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences." The Senate panel confirmed this assessment. This means Putin and his henchmen did all they could to misinform the American public – through RT (the Russian propaganda network that is conveniently available to Americans in many U.S. cable packages) and through trolls who flooded social media with messages designed to divide America and boost Trump.
• "In July 2015, Russian intelligence gained access to Democratic National Committee (DNC) networks and maintained that access until at least June 2016." This sentence comes directly from the 2017 intelligence community assessment, and the Senate Intelligence said the spooks got it right. Simply put, Putin's henchmen did exactly what President Richard Nixon's henchmen did 44 years earlier: they broke into the opposing party's headquarters to try to steal secrets. The only difference is that now that we're in the internet age, the Russians broke into the DNC's online headquarters.
• "The ICA did not attempt to address potential counterintelligence investigations – for example, whether Russian intelligence services attempted to recruit sources with access to any campaign." This means that the intelligence community did not go looking for collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. That continues to be the job of Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed last year to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election – whose work has already resulted in five guilty pleas and 17 indictments.
Sure, maybe the president is right and there's no collusion.
But there are witches (or warlocks) – and the high priest of the coven is named Putin.
And two years after he tried to throw the American presidential election to Trump, Putin will no doubt flash a devilish smile when he meets his American counterpart at a summit in Finland on July 16.
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