President Donald Trump still isn’t convinced Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election and tilt the scales in his favor, deriding it as an excuse perpetuated by Democrats for losing in November.
He might want to talk to Bill Priestap, the FBI’s assistant director of its counterintelligence division, who just told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia had mounted a sophisticated effort to undermine public confidence in the election — and to specifically hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump.
“I think the primary goal, in my mind, was to sow discord, and to try to delegitimize our free and fair election process,” Priestap said. “I also think another of their goals, which the entire United States intelligence community stands behind, was to denigrate Secretary Clinton and to try to help then — current President Trump.”
Priestap is referencing a January report in which three US government agencies — the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency — said Russia tried to give Trump a boost.
It’s worth noting that former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson seems to agree Russia tried to influence the election. Today, he told the House Intelligence Committee that Putin directed Russia to do just that. “That is a fact. Plain and simple,” he told members.
This is the key exchange between Priestap and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee:
FEINSTEIN: To the best of the FBI’s knowledge, have they conducted covert influence in prior election campaigns in the United States? If so, when, what, and how?
PRIESTAP: Yes, absolutely they’ve conducted influence operations in the past.
What made this one different in many regards was, of course, the degree and what you can do through electronic systems today. When they did it in the past, it was doing things like trying to put in biased or half-true stories — getting stories like that into the press or pamphlets people would read, so on and so forth. The internet has just allowed Russia to do so much more today than they have ever been able to do in the past.
FEINSTEIN: So you’re saying prior campaigns were essentially developed to influence one campaign above another? To denigrate a candidate if she was elected? And to support another candidate subtly?
PRIESTAP: I’m saying Russia for years has conducted influence operations targeting our elections, yes.
FEINSTEIN: Equal to this one?
PRIESTAP: Not equal to this one, no, ma’am.
FEINSTEIN: Okay, here we go. What made this one different?
PRIESTAP: Again, I think the scale — the scale and the aggressiveness of the effort, in my opinion, made this one different. And again, it’s because of the electronic infrastructure, the internet, what have you today that allowed Russia to do things that, in the past, they weren’t able to do.
FEINSTEIN: Would you say that this effort was tailored to achieve certain goals?
FEINSTEIN: And what would those goals have been?
PRIESTAP: I think the primary goal, in my mind, was to sow discord, and to try to delegitimize our free and fair election process. I also think another of their goals, which the entire United States intelligence community stands behind, was to denigrate Secretary Clinton and to try to help then — current President Trump.