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Mostly bipartisan Senate Intel Committee report on Russia highlights Manafort’s role

Correction: During this interview, correspondent Nick Schifrin referred to Michael Steele. He meant to refer to Christopher Steele. This has been corrected in the transcript.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released the fifth and final report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It concludes that the 2016 Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia posed a grave national counterintelligence threat but offers no determination on whether the campaign deliberately worked with Russia to sway the election. Nick Schifrin joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we turn to the last election and methods used to influence the outcome then.

    The fifth and final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was released this morning by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.

    For more, here's Stephanie Sy.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, the bipartisan report concluded that the Trump 2016 campaign chairman posed a grave counterintelligence threat to the United States.

    However, the committee offered no conclusion about whether the campaign deliberately colluded with Russia to sway the election's outcome.

    With me now to dig into this 1,000-page finale is our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin.

    Nick, does this report go further than the Mueller report in implicating former Trump campaign officials to Russian intelligence?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The report calls itself the most comprehensive description of what Russia did in 2016.

    It says, Robert Mueller focused too much on criminal prosecutions, and that this is more all-encompassing, detailing more contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials. It acknowledges the discussion, but says it couldn't corroborate anything about compromising material on President Trump.

    It criticizes the FBI for initial actions. And also, in this partisan climate, Stephanie, what's significant, more than 900 pages of this report are bipartisan.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And, again, a three-year investigation.

    There is substantial focus on this report on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman in the initial beginning of the Trump campaign. He is currently serving a federal sentence at home on federal fraud charges that stem from the Mueller report.

    But what does this report tell us that's new?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It calls Manafort the most direct tie between senior Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials and highlights his work with Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the report for the first time calls a Russian intelligence official who may have played a part in the 2016 hacking.

    While campaign chairman, Manafort secretly shared internal info for Kilimnik and denied that Russians hacked the Clinton campaign. After the election, Manafort worked with Kilimnik to undermine evidence that Russia interfered, including creating the claim that we still hear repeated today, that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in 2016.

    And the report even raises the possibility of Manafort's potential connection to Russia's hacking and leaking. The detail there, Stephanie, is redacted.

    The committee's bipartisan conclusion: "Manafort's high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services represented a grave counterintelligence threat."

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The report details, Nick, the help that the Trump campaign was receiving, either wittingly or unwittingly, from the Russians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are dozens of calls detailed by the report between Roger Stone and Donald Trump that the committee believes were about WikiLeaks right as WikiLeaks was receiving hacked material from Russian intelligence.

    The report says that, at the campaign's direction, Stone tried to discover WikiLeaks' actions ahead of time. The campaign then created messaging around the leaks, encouraged further hacking, downplayed or denied WikiLeaks material was hacked by the Russians, and — quote — "was indifferent" to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.

    At the end of the report, committee Democrats concluded that the Trump campaign — quote — "cooperated" with Russia. And, of Manafort, they write: "This is what collusion looks like."

    But a group of Republicans point out the committee found neither Trump nor anyone in his campaign colluded with Russia.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Finally, Nick, the president has long emphasized the procedures and whether they were appropriate by the FBI when they initially started to investigate Russian activity in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

    Does this report address that?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The report criticizes the FBI quite extensively, especially for relying on a dossier that contained salacious claims about Trump written by Christopher Steele.

    He's former British intelligence. And the committee writes, the FBI gave that dossier the "veneer of credibility through lax procedures and layered misunderstandings."

    The committee accused the FBI of using the dossier for surveillance, for briefing president-elect about it, before taking necessary steps to validate assumptions about Steele's credibility.

    The Republican collusion — conclusion about that, Americans should be deeply troubled about FBI tactics. At the end of this report, the Democrats right that this should be an alarm bell for this nation.

    And that alarm bell, Stephanie, is really deja vu. The intelligence community today says that Kremlin-linked actors are boosting President Trump and Russia is denigrating Vice President Biden.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A very relevant report.

    Our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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