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What a Senate panel’s inquiry into 2016 uncovered about Trump campaign’s Russia links

Even as voters near their decisions in the 2020 presidential race, new details about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election have come to light from investigators who have been examining the evidence all this time.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday published the fifth and final report from its inquiry into Russia’s efforts — an inquiry the panel launched while Donald Trump was still president-elect. The final report’s most notable finding singled out Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair in 2016, whose contacts with Russian associates, the report said, posed a “grave counterintelligence threat.”

Some of the text in the Republican-led committee’s 966-page report is redacted. Even so, it offers the most detailed findings yet about the links between Russia and some of the figures in Trump’s orbit.

A previous criminal investigation — the one run by special counsel Robert Mueller — had already delved into Manafort’s contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, one of his former business partners who Mueller’s final report identified as having ties to Russian intelligence. For some time during the 2016 campaign, Manafort shared some of the Trump campaign’s polling data with Kilimnik, Mueller’s report said, and the two met in person in New York that August to discuss campaign strategy, as well. But Mueller’s investigation never came to a conclusion about what Kilimnik did with that data.

The new Senate report goes further, in that it describes Kilimnik outright as a Russian intelligence officer. It also suggests that both Manafort and Kilimnik might have been connected to the Russian hacking of Democratic figures and organizations in 2016, but the evidence for that suggestion appears to have been redacted from the report released Tuesday.

The committee concluded that Russian intelligence probably tried to take advantage of Manafort as a way to learn more about the Trump campaign. “Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik, represented a grave counterintelligence threat,” its report said.

As the 2020 presidential campaigns head into the final stretch, American intelligence officials have again warned this month that Russia continues to interfere in U.S. electoral politics by attempting to disparage the Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The committee previously released four other reports as part of its inquiry: two focusing on other aspects of Russia’s interference operations in 2016, and two focusing on the U.S. government’s response.

Here are some other takeaways from the report that was released on Tuesday:

There’s still no strong confirmation of what the campaign knew about WikiLeaks.

The Senate committee also largely backed up the Mueller investigation’s findings regarding Trump associate Roger Stone’s interactions with WikiLeaks, which published Democratic emails hacked by Russians in the summer and fall of 2016, and the Trump Tower meeting involving a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials, who, the Senate report suggests, may have been hoping to receive derogatory information about Trump’s 2016 election opponent, Hillary Clinton. While the committee concluded that Trump and his campaign aides leaned on Stone for information about WikiLeaks’ actions, the report said that it “could not reliably determine the extent of authentic, non-public knowledge about WikiLeaks” that Stone actually shared. In 2019, Stone was convicted of lying to Congress about his links to WikiLeaks, as well as for witness tampering. Trump commuted his sentence in July.

The panel wants more briefings and more robust training for presidential campaigns.

The committee report calls on the FBI to do more to ward off foreign interference operations. It also faulted the bureau’s use of information from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who was indirectly hired by a political firm to research Trump’s Russia-related activities, in its own investigation. The FBI used information from his dossier to help justify surveillance requests, but the committee found in its report that the FBI gave his information “unjustified credence.” The report also presses the Justice Department for tougher enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a federal disclosure law for lobbyists working on behalf of foreign interests.

Divisions remain over what exactly this report shows.

The vast majority of the Senate report released Tuesday, including its conclusions about Manafort, represented the consensus view of the 15-member committee. But six Republican senators — including the panel’s acting chair, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida — published a two-page addendum stressing that the committee investigation found no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russian government’s interference operations.

Five Democratic senators — including the party’s all-but-certain vice presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala Harris of California — wrote their own postscript challenging the Republicans’ note. “This is what collusion looks like,” they wrote. One of the five Democrats — Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden — wrote another brief note to object to some of the report’s redactions and argue that the investigation should have been broader.

The committee’s Democratic vice chair, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, was one of four members who stuck to the consensus view without writing separately. The other three were Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as well as Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent.

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