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Senate Intelligence Report Outlines Russian Influence In 2016

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has for 3 1/2 years been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. This morning, they released the fifth and final volume of their bipartisan report. In this report, they focus on the counterintelligence threats - how the Russian government sought to influence both Trump campaign officials and the election itself. NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak has been reporting on this and is with us. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.

GREENE: So I know you've been following this for a while. What jumps out at you in this fifth and final volume?

MAK: I think the big headline is that the report outlines former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's work with a man named Konstantin Kilimnik, who they identify as a Russian intelligence officer. The Senate Intelligence Committee says that Manafort sought to share secret internal Trump campaign information with him, briefed Kilimnik on the campaign's polling data and how they wanted to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The report also says that the committee obtained evidence that Kilimnik may have been related to the Russian government's hack and leak operations targeting the 2016 American election. Now, this is a real insight because it shows a link straight from the former Trump campaign chairman to the Russian intelligence services. And the report calls this a grave counterintelligence threat.

GREENE: Well, how long did that threat endure? I mean, Kilimnik was going through Manafort, it sounds like. But Manafort left the campaign midway through the election. Did his role stop there?

MAK: I mean, Kilimnik, this Russian intelligence officer, also planted the seeds for another American scandal years later. Kilimnik, the report includes, almost certainly helped to start this narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. Now, you'll remember that this is the false narrative that helped fuel a phone call to the Ukrainian government that ultimately led to a series events involving Trump's - the president's impeachment.

GREENE: Well, going back to the 2016 campaign, Tim, I mean, the big feature of that election that we all remember so well was the dumping of emails stolen from Democratic Party networks. Are we learning more about that incident from this report?

MAK: Right. As you mentioned, the 2016 campaign was upended by the sudden and unexpected hacking and release of thousands of pages of stolen emails by the website known as WikiLeaks. Right? The report founds - the report finds that Vladimir Putin personally ordered this operation and that WikiLeaks played a key role in this Russian campaign because it, quote, "very likely knew it was assisting a Russian intelligence influence effort."

On the Trump campaign side, the bipartisan report concludes that the Trump campaign sought to maximize the strategic value of these WikiLeaks dumps. They sought advance notice of when these disclosures would happen, and they created PR strategies to promote the materials once they came out. The report also concludes that the Trump campaign, quote, "encouraged further theft of information and continued leaks."

GREENE: Well, I suspect this is not the last time we're going to be talking about the subject of Russia and potentially interfering in American politics, sadly. But this report does essentially put the lid on these years of investigations. I mean, can you sum up what we've learned?

MAK: I mean, I think essentially this report and the other reports before it - the Mueller investigation shows that at critical moments in the campaign, the Trump campaign looked for assistance wherever they could find it, whether that was from folks that we now understand to be related to the Russian intelligence services or otherwise. The report shows that the Trump campaign wanted to do this for their own electoral prospects.

GREENE: NPR's investigative correspondent Tim Mak for us this morning. Tim, thank you so much.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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