WASHINGTON (CNN) – U.S. intelligence officials are increasingly confident Russia intended to help Donald Trump win the election, a view the CIA shared with Congress in a classified briefing after the election.
“What they’ve done is they’ve pieced together a picture. And based on their ability to piece together this picture, they’ve come up with an assessment and, that as far as we know, basically says this. That, in fact, the Russians did intend to have Donald Trump elected president of the U.S., and what they wanted to do in this particular case is grease the skids for him,” said Col. Cedric Leighton.
In October, 17 intelligence agencies released a joint statement saying they were united in the belief that Russia tried to sow chaos during the election with the release of hacked materials.
However, officials tell CNN new intelligence sheds more light on Russia’s apparent motive to help Donald Trump win.
Former CIA director Michael Morrell says the hacks are the political equivalent of 9/11, “Even before the election, Charlie, the entire U.S. intelligence community believed that the Russians were interfering in the election. What’s changed now is it seems like the CIA believes that the intent here was to advantage Donald Trump and disadvantage Hillary Clinton in the election.”
U.S. officials tell CNN that part of the CIA’s shift in assessment is based on the fact hackers obtained documents from both the DNC and RNC but chose only to publish documents harmful to democrats online.
CNN has learned FBI investigators did find a breach of a third party entity that held data belonging to the RNC.
The FBI has not concluded the RNC was directly breached, and the RNC has repeatedly denied ever being hacked. The extent to which the kremlin is tied to the hacks remains murky.
CNN has learned U.S. investigators discovered a digital footprint leading back to people in Russia tied to the Russian government and officials have said the hack fits Russia’s MO, but there’s still no smoking gun directly tying the Russian government to the theft of emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta that were released through WikiLeaks.
“They have people that do the work for them and that gives them plausible deniability. When they have plausible deniability that gives them more independence. They can say with a straight face in an open forum, we never did any of this,” said Col. Cedric Leighton.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement. Even if Russia did try to help Donald Trump, it’s unknown how that might have impacted the outcome of the election. A point made in a fiery exchange by Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer and CNN’s Michael Smerconish.
“Show me what facts have actually shown that anything undermined that election. Donald Trump won with 306 electoral votes, 23-hundred counties, 62 million Americans voted for him, so what proof do you have or does anyone have that any of this affected the outcome of this election?” said Sean Spicer.
Meantime, the FBI has a more conservative view of Russia’s motive and had not come as far as the CIA believing it tried to help Donald Trump.