Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed an effort by Moscow to swing the 2020 US presidential election to Donald Trump, according to an American intelligence report that linked the Kremlin and allies of the former president.
The 15-page report, released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, added heft to longstanding allegations that some of Trump’s top lieutenants were playing into Moscow’s hands by amplifying claims made against then-candidate Joe Biden by Russian-linked Ukrainian figures in the run-up to the November 3 election.
It also added new findings that Putin either oversaw or at least approved of the election meddling to benefit Trump.
The findings about Putin’s role are likely to receive particular attention given the report’s conclusions that Russia-backed figures such as Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach enlisted unnamed US political figures in their campaign to smear Biden and his son Hunter.
The report named Derkach, who met with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in 2019, as someone whose movements were being tracked, if not directed, by Putin.
“Putin had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach,” the report said.
“Other senior officials also participated in Russia’s election influence efforts – including senior national security and intelligence officials who we assess would not act without receiving at least Putin’s tacit approval.”
Democrat Biden defeated Trump, a Republican, and became president in January.
US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russia also interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Mueller found extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump while president also faced questions about ties by his associates with Russia and Russia-linked figures in Ukraine.
The US House of Representatives impeached Trump in 2019 – the first of two times – on charges arising from his request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens.
The US intelligence report also found other foreign attempts to sway American voters in 2020 including a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” by Iran intended to undercut Trump.
As president, Trump pulled the US out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and imposed fresh sanctions.
The report also punctured a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing “did not deploy interference efforts”.
“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report said.
US officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran”.
The report assessed that Russian leaders “preferred that former president Trump win re-election despite perceiving some of his administration’s policies as anti-Russia,” with its authors adding, “We have high confidence in this assessment.”
The US is expected to unveil sanctions on Russia as soon as next week over the alleged meddling.