Putin 'Ordered' Campaign to Influence US Presidential Election, Intelligence Community Says

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his New Year Address to the Nation ahead of 2017 in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 31, 2016. PlaySputnik/Kremlin/EPA
WATCH President Obama Weighs In on Intelligence Report

Russian President Vladimir Putin "ordered" a campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election in an attempt by Russia to "undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process," according to a declassified report on Russian hacking activity.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. 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," the report reads, citing Moscow's "long-standing desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order."

"We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," it goes on to say, and nursed a "grudge" against Clinton "for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging [Putin]."

The elaborate campaign included, according to the report:
•Covert operations such as cyberactivity and overt operations through state-funded media and "paid social media users, or trolls."
•Russian military intelligence's relaying material to media outlets.
•Gaining access to "elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards," although it was clear that those systems were "not involved in vote tallying."

But the report is mum on whether the campaign affected the outcome of the presidential election. Trump won the Electoral College with 304 votes but lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.

Trump has consistently questioned and downplayed intelligence assessments about Russian hacking, saying at a presidential debate in September, "It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

Today he released a statement after his briefing on the matter, saying, "There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines."

He did concede that "Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber-infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations, including the [Democratic] National Committee."

"We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him," the report states, noting that while "all three agencies agree with this judgement, CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgement; NSA has moderate confidence."

The report says the Russian activity "evolved over the course of the campaign" and "began to focus" on Clinton "when it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election."

According to the report, "Moscow's influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyberactivity — with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users, or trolls."

The report said that Russian intelligence agencies "conducted cyberoperations against targets associated with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including targets associated with both major U.S. political parties."

It concluded with "high confidence" that "Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release U.S. victim data obtained in cyberoperations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has repeatedly denied that emails hacked from Democratic officials and published on the site were obtained from the Russian government.

"We can say — we have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party," Assange said to Fox News in an interview that aired Jan. 3.

According to the report, "Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards."

On Dec. 9, President Barack Obama ordered a full review of election-related hacking, with its findings reported to him before he left office.

He and President-elect Donald Trump have been given detailed classified briefings on the matter by the leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies. Obama received his briefing on Thursday in Washington, and Trump was briefed in New York earlier today.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence first blamed Russia for hacking "U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations" on Oct. 7, saying that "only Russia's seniormost officials could have authorized these activities."

The report released today says the DHS assessed that Russian intelligence "obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards" but that those systems "were not involved in vote tallying."

This is a breaking story. There is more to come. Please check back for the latest.