WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee has determined that the intelligence community was correct in assessing that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month.
"Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community's] conclusions were accurate and on point," the panel's vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Wednesday in a joint statement with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., its chairman. "The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton," Warner continued.
But that last determination - that Russia intended to help Trump - sets up a clash within the GOP over which record of events is most accurate, a dispute that could complicate the party's messaging surrounding the Russia investigations as it heads into the 2018 election season. While the House Republicans' report also concurred with the bulk of the intelligence community's findings about Russian meddling, it accused officials of not following their own best practices in determining that Moscow hoped Trump would win.
Trump has taken umbrage at the intelligence community's determination that the Kremlin favored his candidacy over that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The president cheered the House Intelligence Committee's findings and report on Twitter, claiming it vindicated him by finding there was no evidence of collusion or coordination with Russia.
The Senate intelligence panel has yet to weigh in on the collusion allegations, a subject that will be left to its final report. But Burr and Warner have been dropping hints for days that their panel's interim findings on the intelligence community would depart from those of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans. House Democrats also roundly disagreed with those findings.
"I'm not sure that the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts," Burr told reporters last week, when asked whether the Senate Intelligence Committee would also find fault with the intelligence community's assessment. He promised the Senate panel would "have the facts to show for" its conclusions.
"Everyone that we've ever had testify still stands by the full findings of the ICA," Warner said Monday, referring to the intelligence community's assessment. "We've had all the Obama officials, we've had all the Trump officials. Every person."
The committee's review is not yet complete: On Wednesday, panel members huddled behind closed doors with former intelligence chiefs to discuss their impressions and conclusions. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, and former National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers were in attendance. Former FBI director James Comey also was invited.