Senate committee concludes Russia used Manafort, WikiLeaks to boost Trump in 2016

Politics

FILE – In this March 21, 2018 file photo, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., right, accompanied by Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., left, before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Russia used Republican political operative Paul Manafort, the WikiLeaks website and others to try to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help now-President Donald Trump’s campaign, a Senate intelligence panel report said on Tuesday.

WikiLeaks played a key role in Russia’s effort to assist Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton and likely knew it was helping Russian intelligence, the Republican-led Senate intelligence committee stated in the report.

The report found Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed the efforts to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Clinton.

It also lays out significant contacts between Trump associates and Russians, describing for instance a close professional relationship between Trump campaign chairman Paul Mananfort and alleged Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik.

The panel found Manafort’s role and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence, saying his “high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik, represented a grave counterintelligence threat.” In addition, the report says that “two pieces of information” raise the possibility of Manafort’s potential connection to those operations, but what follows next in the document is blacked out.

Both men were charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but neither was accused of any tie to the hacking.

A Manafort lawyer, Kevin Downing, said Tuesday that there is information that was sealed at the request of Mueller’s team “that completely refutes whatever the intelligence committee is trying to surmise.” He added: “It just looks like complete conjecture.”

The Senate panel described its report, totaling more than 1,300 pages, as “the most comprehensive description to date of Russia’s activities and the threat they posed.” The bipartisan investigation lasted almost three and a half years, much longer than the other probes.

The report purposely does not come to a final conclusion, as the other reports did, about whether there is enough evidence that Trump’s campaign coordinated or colluded with Russia to sway the election, leaving its findings open to partisan interpretation.

Mueller found no conclusive evidence of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in a report released last year. He pointed at 10 instances in which Trump may have attempted to impede his investigation but did not say whether this amounted to obstruction of justice.

It remains unclear what effect, if any, the report might have on the November election.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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