♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: Tonight... >> We were seeing a campaign on the part of the Russians.
It was a much more aggressive, a much more intense, and much more worrisome effort.
>> NARRATOR: From behind closed doors... >> A number of us felt very strongly that we had to tell the American public what we knew.
>> Three people with ties to President Trump are now facing charges... >> NARRATOR: Amid new revelations about Russia and the election.
>> Twelve charges including conspiracy against the United States.
>> NARRATOR: The conclusion of "Putin's Revenge."
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: The cyber attack began with an email.
>> "Hi John.
"Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account."
>> John Podesta, in his role as chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign, gets a lot of email.
So he has other people who are, you know, checking out his email as it comes in.
>> "Google stopped this sign-in attempt.
You should change your password immediately."
>> NARRATOR: But this was not from Google.
It had been sent by Russian hackers-- a computer phishing attack.
>> Spear phishes are a term of art in the cyber world for emails that are meant to look legitimate.
"Someone's tried to use your password "to get into your account.
"Please click on this link and change your password immediately."
>> A number of people had access to my email account, one of whom checked with one of our security people about whether it was a phishing email, was told no, it was real.
>> This is a legitimate email.
John needs to change his password immediately.
>> And he meant to type "illegitimate," or so he says to us.
So, but for a two-letter typo, the chairman of the Clinton campaign's emails may not have been spread to the world.
>> At the time, I was not aware that I had been hacked.
>> NARRATOR: 60,000 emails from Podesta's account were a political goldmine, part of a campaign aimed at disrupting the presidential election that the American government linked to Vladimir Putin.
>> If it were possible to create doubts and to create chaos with the political system of a major Western democratic country, like the U.S., I think that will certainly serve the propaganda goals of Vladimir Putin's regime.
♪ ♪ >> NARRATOR: It would be Vladimir Putin's revenge for a lifetime of grievances.
>> Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
>> NARRATOR: Reviving the old Cold War with new weapons.
>> We have the responsibility to advance freedom and democracy.
>> NARRATOR: An epic struggle... >> Everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.
>> NARRATOR: ...between the leader of Russia and American democracy.
>> The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve.
(man speaking Russian) >> We'll give you a live look now at Sochi.
Today's opening ceremony takes place in... >> It cost Russia close to 50 billion euros.
>> NARRATOR: In the winter of 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin put on a show.
(man speaking Russian) >> For Putin, hosting the Olympics is the crescendo of his campaign to revive Russian greatness.
>> It was the kind of pageantry which Putin and Russians in general loved.
He was riding very high.
This was, you know, a moment of personal and national triumph from his point of view.
(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: The games were an announcement that the world needed to pay attention to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
(Putin speaking Russian) (cheers and applause) >> Sochi was a huge moment for Vladimir Putin, and it was meant to be his validation and crowning moment of acceptance on the world stage as, you know, sort of the new Russian tsar.
(cheers and applause) >> NARRATOR: But Putin's moment of glory was tarnished by troubles just over Russia's border: in Ukraine.
>> Ukraine is stuck very much in the middle both geographically... >>> ...with the protests in neighboring Ukraine, what is Russian President... >> NARRATOR: To Putin, the crowds were a repudiation.
The protesters demanded their government move away from Russia and toward the West.
Coming in the midst of his Olympics, Putin saw something else.
>> Putin was sure that that was a real conspiracy to rain on his parade.
That his enemies wanted to steal his... his Olympics.
>> NARRATOR: As the crowds grew, Putin suspected the involvement of Russia's longtime adversary, the United States.
>> Putin himself believes that it was the United States.
You know, he honestly doesn't believe that people can get out on the streets just because they don't like people in power.
>> NARRATOR: It was a view widely held in Putin's circle.
>> Mr. Obama and others, they decided that America can do whatever they like, to spread "democracy," they call it.
How many diplomats from the United States were at that time in Kiev?
>> NARRATOR: American diplomats were in the midst of the protesters, in Kiev's main square-- the Maidan.
Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was one of them.
>> Ukrainians hit the street all over the country, including in Kiev.
And that's how Maidan starts, because they want Europe and they don't want further dependency on Russia.
>> So you have Toria Nuland going out and handing out sandwiches on the Maidan-- a gesture of, "We're with you in your fight for democracy," which is not different from the American stance traditionally all over the world.
>> NARRATOR: To Putin, Nuland's presence was proof the Americans were pulling the strings.
>> Putin is very, very good at weaving a narrative that suits his larger political purpose.
It was very useful for him to make me and us the poster child for interference in another country's affairs.
>> NARRATOR: His belief that Americans were interfering in Russia's sphere of influence was not new.
He had spent a lifetime wary of the United States.
As a young KGB officer, he was trained to spot American conspiracies.
>> Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
>> NARRATOR: Posted to Dresden, East Germany, he watched firsthand the crumbling of the Soviet empire.
>> ...will be a year remembered for Communism's loss of influence in the world... >> The quote that he said once that really was so revealing, that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.
That's how he saw it.
>> Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
>> NARRATOR: First as prime minister and then as president, he came to see America as a growing threat.
>> Vladimir Putin concluded that the United States, when possible, would use its power and leverage to depose leaders that it did not agree with.
>> The former dictator of Iraq... >> NARRATOR: Putin had watched American "regime change" overthrow Saddam Hussein, and he believed they had engineered revolutions in former Soviet republics.
>> The American people will stand with you.
>> Protesters have taken... >> NARRATOR: In the Arab Spring, he watched his ally, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, dragged through the streets.
>> Putin watches that tape over and over and over again.
It's all he can talk about for quite some time.
>> NARRATOR: Playing a role in Gaddafi's downfall: the American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
>> Gaddafi must go and the Libyan people deserve to determine their own future.
>> NARRATOR: And in Russia as massive protests broke out just outside the Kremlin walls, Putin believed America had crossed the line.
And he blamed Hillary Clinton.
>> You know, the Russian people deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted.
>> Putin said it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who provided funds and means to the Russian opposition and made them to get out of the... on the streets.
>> No question he's looking at revenge at Hillary Clinton.
There's no question that he sees Hillary Clinton as an adversary.
And he wanted to, like, you know, he wanted to get her back.
>> NARRATOR: Putin would wait for the right moment to strike back at Clinton and the United States.
>> ...the Winter Olympics in Sochi and with the protests in neighboring Ukraine... >> NARRATOR: Two years later, he would test a new strategy during those protests in Ukraine that had overshadowed his Olympics.
>> ...had spiraled into deeper violence.
>> NARRATOR: The first target: Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.
>> What do you think?
>> I think we're in play... >> NARRATOR: It began with an intercept of a phone call.
>> NARRATOR: As Nuland discussed the future of Ukraine, she uttered a profanity about the European Union.
>> Ah, the famous barnyard epithet, yeah.
>> "(Bleep) the E.U."
(speaking German) >> The fallout from a top American diplomat's very undemocratic expletive hurled at the European Union... >> NARRATOR: The leak was designed to reveal America's role in Ukraine and sow division between Nuland and the E.U.
(woman speaking Russian) >> Clearly they were looking to discredit me personally as the main negotiator at that time to thereby reduce U.S. influence.
>> Not a word you would use typically to talk about an ally.
>> Well, this is a major embarrassment.
Look, this is the top U.S. diplomat for Europe.
>> NARRATOR: Intercepting diplomatic communications was nothing new.
>> Russians are at the very least denying they posted the call.
>> NARRATOR: But leaking them online was.
>> ...now tweets, "I was just monitoring the internets."
>> But it wasn't a five-alarm fire.
And in retrospect, some people think we should have taken this a lot more seriously than we did.
Because it was the first demonstration that Russia was willing and able to use techniques against the United States that it had previously not dared to attempt.
>> The recording of the phone call leaked on social media.
>> Of course they're listening to everything.
But usually they're just collecting it for themselves.
This is the first time they have gone out and weaponized that information against the U.S. >> NARRATOR: The leak was only the beginning.
Another tactic: in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Putin used disinformation-- outright lies-- as a weapon.
>> They moved in with what the Ukrainians called "Little Green Men."
And they were clearly, by the way they handled themselves and their weapons, professional military.
Wearing Russian-style combat uniforms, but no insignia.
>> ...forces in the thousands seizing territory.
>> NARRATOR: Putin knew an invasion of Ukraine would be a clear violation of international law, and inevitably provoke an American response.
So the troops were disguised and he denied they were his.
>> I think it was a tactically impressive move that he was able to basically invade a huge chunk of a neighboring country.
>> A tug-of-war in Ukraine, where more soldiers... >> ...and do it in a way that made it difficult to figure out exactly what was going on until it was too late.
>> NARRATOR: Russia seized Crimea without firing a shot.
Putin had successfully used disinformation and weaponized leaks.
He was also testing something else: Russia's cyber capabilities.
>> There is a cheap way to intimidate other countries.
What Putin has are armies of people at laptops harassing, intimidating, and even manipulating the information and news that we read.
>> Ukraine, more than any other country, is the petri dish in which the Russians conduct their experiments in cyber operations-- where they work on manipulating elections.
Where at Christmastime of 2015, turning off the power to a quarter of a million people.
The Russians figured out just how far they could go without provoking a reaction from us.
>> NARRATOR: As the cyber attacks and disinformation ramped up, Russia began operating on a new front in eastern Ukraine.
>> The new front line of eastern Ukraine's war, heavy fighting... >> The use of paramilitary forces, the use of cyber warfare, the use of conventional military, all of that-- and disinformation-- amounted to an entirely new form of warfare, what became known as hybrid war.
>> ...intense fighting in eastern Ukraine... >> NARRATOR: In Washington, the American government was struggling to devise a response to Putin's actions.
>> How do you deter behavior when the other side is basically denying that it's even taking place?
When the other side is saying, "I don't even know what you're talking about.
We're not involved."
>> President Obama says he's deeply concerned about that... >> NARRATOR: In several phone calls, President Barack Obama confronted Putin about the little green men.
Tony Blinken was in the Oval Office for those calls.
>> Putin denied their presence.
And it was striking, and flat-out lying about Russia's presence in Ukraine.
And Obama would say to him, "Vladimir, we're not blind.
"We have eyes.
We can see."
And Putin would just move on, as if nothing had happened.
>> NARRATOR: At the Pentagon, some believed Putin only understood one thing: military force.
>> The most important thing that we could do was to deter Russia.
And the best way to do that, we thought in my office, was to make the Russians afraid that they would have to pay a higher price for their military intervention.
The higher price would be a price in Russian lives, that if we had anti-tank weapons, the Russian tanks coming at the Ukrainians would get hit and Russian soldiers would die.
>> NARRATOR: The C.I.A.
director agreed that tough action was needed.
>> I remember being on the schoolyards of New Jersey when I grew up, and, you know, bullies try to intimidate.
And they keep moving forward unless they get their-- their nose bloodied a little bit.
And I felt as though Mr. Putin really needed to get his nose bloodied.
And I think it would have caused him to back off, because like most bullies, he knows that he can't stand up to others.
It's a lot of bluster.
>> NARRATOR: But the president was reluctant to be drawn into a conflict with Russia.
He would not approve providing weapons to the Ukrainians.
>> Obama responds to Ukraine by imposing sanctions.
And they begin to penalize Russian businesses and Russian individuals that they blame for being part of this.
>> NARRATOR: Some who had dealt with Putin worried sanctions would not stop him.
>> I think that Putin successfully calculated that the hammer would not come down on him in a critically painful way if he did things deniably, stealthily, if he probed and if he sort of boiled the frog hotter and hotter and hotter rather than attacking directly.
And he was right.
>> NARRATOR: Soon Putin would go further and directly take on the United States.
>> It's a revenge and it's an equalizer.
It was retribution.
It's, "You interfere in our politics, we're going to show that American democracy is not so solid, that American exceptionalism is not so pristine, and that you too can be vulnerable to interference and chaos and embarrassment in your political processes."
>> NARRATOR: The chance to strike at American democracy came just a few months later.
>> It's the season of politicians making big announcements, and today we got one.
>> NARRATOR: As the country prepared for the 2016 presidential election... >> We are going to start winning, big league.
>> NARRATOR: ...the insurgent candidate, Donald Trump, was dominating the headlines and generating attention.
>> ...and we will make America great again.
>> When Vladimir Putin looked over at the U.S. presidential election, he saw one candidate who was voicing positions that were very consistent with what Russia would have wanted in the world.
>> I think I'd get along very well with Vladimir Putin.
>> NARRATOR: For years, Trump had been outspoken in his praise for Putin.
>> In Russia, I was in Moscow recently, and I spoke with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.
He's running his country and at least he's a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.
>> He was personally invested in the idea of Putin as a friend.
He said, "Maybe he'll be my BFF.
Maybe, you know"-- and praising him to the point where he would even defend Putin against anybody who said any negative things about him.
>> I think in terms of leadership, he's getting an A and our president is not doing so well.
>> NARRATOR: It appeared that Donald Trump was the kind of candidate Vladimir Putin could like.
>> President Putin's view of Trump was a penchant for authoritarianism, of backing off of human rights, and talking about wanting to have a more positive relationship with Russia.
What's not to like if you're Vladimir Putin?
It sort of sounds like he's one of us.
>> We will build a great wall.
>> NARRATOR: As Trump closed in on the nomination, he assembled a team with connections to Moscow.
>> If you were Putin, you see Trump hiring and reaching out to a series of political advisers who have similar sympathies and/or links to Russia.
You see the campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who worked for pro-Russia Ukrainian parties.
And then this relatively obscure national security adviser named Carter Page, who is much more amenable to Moscow than some of the hawks.
You add into that Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, who Putin had dinner with in Moscow.
Just all of those links, from Moscow's perspective, they had to be thinking, "Wow, this is someone, at the very least, we can do business with."
>> NARRATOR: Vladimir Putin had another, special reason to be interested in the election.
>> Hillary Clinton is trying to lock down the Democratic nomination.
>> NARRATOR: Hillary Clinton.
>> We've had some very tough dealings with one another.
And I know that he's someone that you have to continually stand up to, because like many bullies, he is somebody who will take as much as he possibly can unless you do.
>> Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening... >> NARRATOR: He believed Clinton had crossed the line and interfered in Russian politics during those anti-Putin protests, and now, a chance to strike back.
>> All the time, there is this probing that's going on, poking around in sensitive systems.
>> NARRATOR: Russian hackers had already breached American government computer networks.
>> The State Department had been penetrated.
The White House had been penetrated.
The Pentagon had been penetrated.
>> NARRATOR: Now a new target: the computer network inside the Democratic National Committee.
>> They were almost the perfect target.
They didn't have the full protections of a government agency, but they had much more valuable information than an ordinary private organization.
>> NARRATOR: The attack inside the DNC network wasn't secret for long.
>> The first intrusion into the DNC, these were initially detected by the NSA, who shares the information with the FBI.
And those intrusions, first intrusions, in 2015 were by the group known as A.P.T.-29 or Cozy Bear.
>> NARRATOR: A.P.T.-29 was already known to American investigators: "Cozy Bear" were Russian hackers.
>> There was a pattern in terms of the tools used, in terms of the nature of the probing that they saw, that led to-- that pointed back to Russia pretty early on.
>> NARRATOR: But inside FBI headquarters, the reaction was surprisingly low-key.
A special agent simply called the I.T.
department at the DNC.
>> You had nine months during which an FBI special agent was trying to communicate with a young I.T.
professional at the Democratic National Committee who didn't even believe that the guy on the other end of the phone was an FBI special agent.
>> The help desk didn't know what to make of it.
They didn't know if it was authentic.
They didn't know if this person was who he said he was.
And, frankly, they were utterly ill-equipped to deal with it.
>> At no point did anybody from the FBI walk out of their building, up the street to DNC headquarters.
I did that once as we were writing a reconstruction of this hack.
It's about a 12-minute walk if you stop at Starbucks to pick something up along the way.
They never bothered.
>> NARRATOR: Russian hackers had wide-ranging access to DNC servers.
>> And they didn't respond aggressively.
And so for months, the hackers were inside the DNC, working away, burrowing in, collecting information, and transporting it overseas.
>> NARRATOR: They waited for just the right moment.
>> The Democratic National Convention is getting ready to kick off.
>> NARRATOR: And in the summer of 2016, as the Democrats gathered to unify the party around Hillary Clinton... >> Some disarray this morning just a day away... >> NARRATOR: ...those DNC emails had been passed to the website Wikileaks.
Now they were released and would sow chaos among the delegates.
>> A trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee... >> They wait until two days before the Democratic convention begins and then lay out emails that was documentary proof that sows some chaos into the Democrats just as they're getting ready to meet.
>> NARRATOR: The emails suggested the DNC had worked to undermine Clinton's rival, Bernie Sanders.
>> Bombshell revelations about how the Democratic National Committee does business.
>> NARRATOR: The release triggered just the kind of disruption Putin wanted.
>> There were real cracks in the Democratic Party because of Russia hacking.
You saw Democrats warring with each other, with Senator Sanders' supporters railing against the Clinton supporters on the convention floor, the swelling protests.
It was chaos in Philly.
And it was because of these emails.
>> This is what democracy looks like!
>> Passions of the Sanders camp are fully inflamed... >> One of the most dramatic moments at the convention, which was helped along by the Wikileaks disclosures, was Sanders' people getting up, walking out of the convention.
>> Hey, hey, DNC, we won't vote for Hillary!
>> Sanders has accused the DNC of putting their thumb on the scale for Clinton.
>> The effectiveness of this interference from Russia depends on a couple of things, right?
It depends on the polarization of politics in America.
There were divides.
And Russia was pushing out material that exploited those divides, that broadened them, that called attention to those divides.
>> Putin loves the idea that no one is saint, that every politician is corrupt.
Any election is rigged.
We are all the same-- we are all dirty bastards.
That cynical approach, that is actually almost official ideology of today's Russia.
>> This is what democracy looks like!
>> Clinton's going to need those Sanders supporters, but there is some damning information that came out today... >> NARRATOR: As the DNC emails made news, Donald Trump was quick to seize the story.
>> It was sort of fresh, inside material from the other side that he had to draw on.
I mean, for Donald Trump, it's sort of a godsend.
>> I'm not going to tell Putin what to do.
Why should I tell Putin what to do?
>> NARRATOR: Trump didn't focus on the source of the leaks; he exploited the content of the emails.
>> Let me tell you, it's not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that's doing the hacking.
It was about the things that were said in those emails.
They were terrible things.
>> Trump's willingness to exploit this situation, to use all these emails, really compound the impact.
I mean, Russia couldn't have envisioned that it would have a candidate willing to do that.
That is a huge factor.
>> NARRATOR: Still, Trump couldn't avoid questions about Putin and the Russian hacking.
>> What do I have to get involved with Putin for?
I have nothing to do with Putin, I've never spoken to him, I don't know anything about him other than he will respect me.
>> He doesn't see this as a fundamental attack by an adversary.
He sees this as just, you know, part of the circus, you know, of American democracy.
His response is to invite them to do it more.
He says, "Hey, Russia, if you're listening, maybe you can find those missing Hillary Clinton emails."
>> But it would be interesting to see, I will tell you this-- Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.
>> It was a jarring moment.
And we sat there with our jaws open.
We couldn't believe that a presidential candidate was encouraging a foreign power, an adversary, to meddle in an election.
>> Donald Trump is fanning the flames of the email hack involved in the Democratic... >> ...even inciting the Russians to help find some other... >> The reaction continuing to pour in... >> NARRATOR: At the Central Intelligence Agency, there was growing concern about the implications of the leaks.
>> It was quite clear to me that we were seeing a campaign on the part of the Russians, that it was a much more aggressive, much more intense, and much more worrisome effort.
>> NARRATOR: The intelligence community's analysis had already linked the DNC intrusion to Russian hackers-- the very ones used in Ukraine.
But now at C.I.A.
headquarters, they said they had something more: direct evidence that Vladimir Putin himself was personally involved.
>> To get the intelligence that corroborates that was the coup for the C.I.A.
>> The agency has obtained intelligence that shows that Putin is behind this operation.
Putin is setting its goals.
Putin is not only aware of this, but aware that they're planning to weaponize this information.
>> He rarely communicates by phone or email or anything electronic.
So for them to get this kind of intelligence was pretty significant.
>> NARRATOR: Exactly what the C.I.A.
found is classified, but to Brennan it was a game-changer.
>> It was something that was, I think, worrying to all of us, particularly since we didn't know the extent of what it is that the Russians were engaged in.
And we didn't know how far they would go to really threaten the integrity of the election.
>> NARRATOR: The information was dispatched from C.I.A.
headquarters to the offices of the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
>> I reacted viscerally when I understood the magnitude of what they were doing, and that it was in fact orchestrated at the highest levels of the Russian government, meaning Putin himself.
I've seen a lot of bad stuff in my 50-plus years in intelligence.
That really shook me.
>> NARRATOR: With Clapper on board, Brennan delivered the details to the president in person.
>> Obama's senior-most officials have told us that he was taken aback by this, that the president was alarmed, as well.
>> NARRATOR: At the White House, some wanted the president to sound the alarm to the American people.
>> There's a big debate inside the Obama administration.
What kind of actions should they take?
How public should they be about raising the alarm?
>> NARRATOR: Veteran Putin watchers worried that if the president didn't respond forcefully, the attacks would continue.
>> As we are watching what's happening, those of us who've seen this movie before, whether it was in Estonia or Ukraine, it seems absolutely familiar.
>> Everybody that I knew who read into this and who was at high levels of the State Department, supported both attributing it to the Russians as early as possible and responding in a robust way.
>> Obama could have destroyed computer servers that were involved in this.
He could have stepped in to reveal information about Putin himself and his financial connections to the oligarchs.
He had all kinds of cyber choices.
And then he had all kinds of non-cyber tools: sanctions, things like that.
>> NARRATOR: But Obama resisted aggressive responses.
>> I think the feeling was, how are you going to talk about this without seeming to be influencing the election and taking a side?
I just think they preferred to stay out of it.
>> Overriding all of this was President Obama's concern about not doing anything that was going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Russians, which was to call into question the integrity of the election.
>> Very clever on Putin's part, as well, because President Obama conceivably could have been accused of doing the very thing that Putin himself was doing, and therefore contributing to the discrediting of the election.
>> The other thing is that the Obama administration expected Clinton to win.
And they were afraid that if they weighed in now, it would look like they're really putting their thumbs on the scale.
This is a kind of a classic case of the Obama administration overthinking something while the Russians were just kind of punching them in the gut.
>> NARRATOR: Before he would act, the president wanted congressional Republicans to join him in calling out Putin and Russian interference.
>> The Obama administration is so concerned about being accused of politicizing intelligence during the election, they're really reluctant for the president himself to go out on a limb and say, "Look, Russia is doing this.
Russia's messing around in our election."
They really wanted this to be a bipartisan statement of condemnation of Moscow's interference.
>> NARRATOR: Top intelligence officials traveled to Capitol Hill to tell congressional leaders what they knew.
>> They were all there: the Speaker, Leader Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader Reid, the foreign affairs committees, the intel committees.
They were all there.
And we briefed them on what we knew.
>> NARRATOR: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell expressed skepticism about the intelligence, and warned that he would not join an effort to publicly challenge Putin.
>> They're told by Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, that, "If you do that, we are going to interpret that as you putting the thumb on the scales for Hillary Clinton."
>> NARRATOR: The meetings were top secret, held behind closed doors.
>> In those briefings of Congress, some of the individuals expressed concern that this was motivated by partisan interests on the part of the administration.
And I took offense to that, and told them that this is an intelligence assessment.
This is an intelligence matter.
>> It's a moment when politics and partisan positioning appears to take precedence over national security.
In other words, they are so worried about each other, the Democrats and Republicans, as adversaries, that they can't get around the idea that there is a bigger adversary.
>> NARRATOR: In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin denied being at the center of the hacking, but he seemed pleased to be the center of attention.
>> Everybody started to talk about Russia.
Some questions were asked.
Vladimir Putin clearly enjoyed himself when he was asked these questions in the beginning of September.
He gave some, well, conventional answers with some wink but that was all.
(speaking Russian) (chuckles) >> (translated): I don't know anything about that.
You know, there are so many hackers today.
And they act so delicately and precisely, then they can leave their trace in the necessary time and place or even someone else's trace.
>> There's always plausible deniability built into the system.
So a lot of the hackers that are working for the Russian government, they're not necessarily wearing, you know, epaulets and uniforms.
They're not necessarily sitting in G.R.U.
bunkers in Moscow or somewhere in Russia.
A lot of them are freelancers.
(speaking Russian) >> (translated): Does it even matter who hacked this data from the campaign headquarters of Mrs. Clinton?
Is that really important?
The important thing is the content that has been given to the public.
>> And the Russians were not really denying it.
This is classic Russian tactic, where they, they-- it's deniability.
There's a veneer of deniability.
But at the same time, the Russians are telegraphing with kind of a wink, "We'll see what we can do."
(woman speaking Russian) >> NARRATOR: In September, President Barack Obama decided to personally deliver a warning to Vladimir Putin.
(man speaking Russian) The scene was the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China.
>> We had talked about the importance of making sure that President Obama seized that opportunity, so that Mr. Putin understood the gravity of this, the seriousness with which Mr., President Obama viewed it, and the need to cease and desist.
>> NARRATOR: They posed for formal pictures.
Later, Obama pulled Putin aside.
>> And the pictures from that meeting are pretty extraordinary.
President Obama is looking down on Putin and says, "We know what you're doing, and you need to stop it."
I mean, this is the most direct warning that one state can deliver to another.
>> The picture tells a thousand words.
I think President Obama's face really conveys a sense of deep concern and sending a message to Mr. Putin.
>> NARRATOR: Despite the confrontation, Putin continued to deny Russian involvement.
>> The response we got from the Russians-- largely what we always get from the Russians, which is, "We're not doing anything.
"It's not us.
"I don't know what you're talking about.
We would never interfere in your system the way you interfere with our system."
Just straight-out denials: "We're not involved, it's not us.
We would never do such a thing."
>> We turn now to the race for the White House.
>> ...only six weeks until Election Day.
The battle at the ballot... >> NARRATOR: That fall, as Hillary Clinton prepared for the final weeks of the campaign, her staff was becoming increasingly concerned that the Russians were involved in more than just hacking.
>> We were watching stories about Hillary Clinton appearing on Russian propaganda websites like Russia Today and Sputnik.
>> A Democratic frontrunner has been forced to refute rumors of her deteriorating health, maybe... >> And then somehow ending up in very similar form, in the right-wing media ecosystem of the United States-- Breitbart and Infowars, even Fox News.
>> What was once a concern voiced in whispers is now getting mainstream attention.
We're talking about Hillary Clinton's health.
>> Clinton is, quote... >> NARRATOR: On RT, a cable channel distributed worldwide and controlled by the Kremlin... >> Various theories about her health caught on... >> NARRATOR: ...exaggerated and questionable stories about Clinton's health began to circulate.
>> Under a microscope are Clinton's falls, coughs, and head motions.
(reporters overlapping) (laughter) >> Did you talk about vice presidential possibilities with Senator Warren?
>> You guys have got to try the cold chai.
>> This video filmed in June went viral and started a slew of rumors that Clinton may have had a seizure.
>> Some have said it's like a mini-seizure.
What does it look like to you?
>> It could be a post-concussion syndrome-- you know, your balance is off, you're dizzy all the time... >> In the world of hybrid warfare and disinformation, all you need to do is float something that's incorrect or wrong, and then other people will seize on it, and dissemination happens at light speed.
>> The fact is, she's out there giving speeches every day and has to cancel them having these coughing fits.
(coughing) >> New questions tonight about Hillary Clinton's health.
>> Good evening, it was a dramatic moment that's already being watch and re-watched.
>> The episode this morning is raising more questions about her health.
>> NARRATOR: Similar stories appeared on the Russian-controlled news service Sputnik.
>> This is a multi-pronged attack.
A lot of times these kinds of efforts involve things that are only half-true, but create doubt and suspicion-- that's part of the goal.
>> Health scare for Hillary Clinton over the weekend... >> NARRATOR: On social media, the stories exploded.
(woman speaking Russian) >> It was not true, the idea that Hillary Clinton was sick.
But because of the way in which you were experiencing the news, and what you were reading, you could spend your whole day being fed information that reinforced this belief that Hillary Clinton was hiding something.
>> NARRATOR: Fueling the social media boom: fake users designed to look like Americans, trolls supporting the Kremlin, an army of automated accounts called bots on Twitter, and targeted advertisements on Facebook and Google.
>> It involves the use of bots, the use of technology, to spread artificial news, what many people call fake news.
>> NARRATOR: The stories made it into the mainstream media, too, and on the campaign trail, Donald Trump would use them to his advantage.
>> And she can't make it 15 feet to her car, give me a break.
Give me a break.
>> He would cite material that was from what we used to call the fringe.
But the fringe became the center of American political life.
>> Give me a break!
>> And some of that fringe involved Russian stories that weren't accurate.
(man speaking Russian) >> Because what Putin was trying to do was to show that everyone's lying, everyone's cheating.
There is no objective truth.
And there is no difference between what you hear from Western media and what you hear in, say, Russia's media.
That was the line, and he became increasingly successful in blurring it for people, including in the United States and the West.
>> Top Democrats are accusing very senior levels of the Russian government of trying to influence... >> Did Russia do the hackings?
Did they do it to influence the American political election?
>> NARRATOR: As the size and scope of Russian interference intensified, the intelligence agencies grew increasingly concerned.
>> They said they believe Russian hackers are behind those attacks in a possible attempt... >> There was an emerging picture that was becoming clearer and clearer, of interference, attempts to interfere in our democracy.
>> NARRATOR: In tense debates, Secretary Johnson pushed for going public with the intelligence about Putin and the hacking.
>> A number of us felt very strongly that we had to tell the American public what we knew, and that it would be unforgivable, post-election, if we had not.
>> Jeh and I were, I think, of like mind here, that if the election, for whatever reason and whatever manner, were to go south, and then afterwards it was learned that we knew about what the Russians were doing, or had some pretty good insight into what they were doing, and we didn't say anything about it before the election, there would really be hell to pay.
>> NARRATOR: Finally, Obama agreed.
>> Obama still doesn't want this to be in his name.
So he enlists his intelligence chief, James Clapper, and his homeland security chief, Jeh Johnson, to put out a statement in their names, hoping that that will be perceived as less partisan than if the president had done so himself.
>> NARRATOR: But just agreeing on what would be said would be difficult.
>> The statement that Jim Clapper and Jeh Johnson put out went through an arduous review process, including in the White House Situation Room, just trying to get the tone right, make sure the message was right.
>> NARRATOR: The vetted statement was just three paragraphs long.
>> ...the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions..." >> There were a few interesting things about that intelligence report.
First, it gave us no details.
Second, it was incredibly late.
And it took the intelligence community more than two months to be able to come up with a few sentences that essentially confirmed that story.
>> NARRATOR: Also missing: any mention of President Putin's personal involvement.
>> They could have said Putin, but they didn't.
His name got taken out of the final statement because of a concern over sources and methods and of concern about appearing to be too provocative.
>> It didn't say they had seen evidence, although they had.
It didn't say they were listening in on conversations that would take it directly to Putin, although they had.
It said, "It had to have been ordered at the highest levels."
>> NARRATOR: At the White House, they held their collective breaths and sent it out to the media.
>> I thought our statement was going to be really, really big news.
It was unprecedented that the U.S. government was accusing another superpower of effectively putting their thumb on the scale of our democracy and attempting to influence our election.
>> NARRATOR: They'd planned the release for a Friday afternoon.
>> From the White House's perspective, they're going to drop this thing on a Friday and they're going to own news coverage over the weekend.
This was going to be a big story.
>> ...the Russians, at the highest levels of the Russian government, have authorized cyber attacks on... >> We thought this was a pretty good news story.
And we started figuring out how quickly we could get it up on the web, ripping up page one.
And along comes one even more wild.
>> Pete, thank you for that.
And some breaking news, this coming in just in the last few seconds.
NBC News has just become aware of a video capturing Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women... >> And that was, of course, the famous tape of Trump boasting about how he would deal with women when he was such a star and, you know, he could get away with anything.
>> Breaking late this evening, a blast from the past that seems to be exploding in the face of the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
>> NARRATOR: News of the tape broke at 4:00 p.m. >> And that pushes aside even the news of Vladimir Putin interfering in our election.
And that tape becomes the dominant story of the day.
>> This is much better.
This is... >> The "Access Hollywood" video came out the same day.
And the media all were like cattle.
And they went off and grazed in the other end of the pasture.
>> It's the audio recording sending shockwaves across the presidential election... >> Biden called Trump's comments disgusting... >> A deeply offensive comment Trump made about women... >> And it's like an avalanche.
I mean, the warning that the Obama administration was desperately trying to convey with that statement ends up at the bottom of that avalanche.
>> The Trump camp has swiftly launched into disaster mode... >> NARRATOR: It looked like Trump's campaign might be over.
>> ...that this is the end of the Donald Trump campaign.
>> Nothing he's going to be able to do to recover from this... >> NARRATOR: And then, just minutes after the Trump tape surfaced, another bombshell.
>> A flood of emails suggests that in private, her advisers... >> NARRATOR: Wikileaks suddenly began releasing those John Podesta emails that had been captured by Russian hackers months before.
>> The leaks of my emails, they didn't occur until October, an hour after the "Access Hollywood" tape became public.
So clearly, I think this, this was done to some extent to distract the press, to get them off the "Access Hollywood" story.
>> Breaking news here.
Wikileaks is about to release, quote, "significant material tied to Hillary Clinton."
>> The campaign is doing damage control tonight after Wikileaks released... >> I was in a room dealing with Wikileaks emails when that happened.
And I think people forget that, that for Trump there were some really embarrassing moments.
But for us, every day, you know, there was more and more coming out.
>> Campaign manager Robby Mook lashed out, writing, quote, "Wow, what a terrorist."
>> NARRATOR: It was just the beginning.
Podesta's emails would continue to leak through Election Day.
>> So the "Access Hollywood" tape is like this supernova that explodes on that day.
The Podesta emails, it's, like, this fuse that's lit on this, on that day, and just slowly burns until it sort of blows up as you get closer to the election.
>> ...release of emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta.
>> NARRATOR: Amplifying the Podesta emails once again: the trolls, the bots, RT, and Donald Trump himself.
>> Wikileaks is amazing, the stuff that's coming out.
It shows she's a real liar.
This Wikileaks stuff is unbelievable.
It tells you the inner heart.
You got to read it.
I love Wikileaks.
>> Everybody was complicit in Wikileaks and the, and the Russians were complicit in it.
The Trump campaign was amplifying it.
The press all focused on Hillary Clinton, and in a negative way.
>> It is decision day in America, and we are taking a look at the presidential race... >> After a long, contentious presidential race, we are near the end... >> NARRATOR: After all the chaos, the hacks, and fake news, it was finally Election Day.
>> Polling shows a tight race nationally, but with Hillary Clinton ahead.
>> NARRATOR: In Moscow, they were watching as the results came in.
(speaking Russian) >> It's hard to imagine that many people in Moscow thought that Donald Trump was going to win... (speaking Russian) >> ...since nobody else did.
They read the same things that we read and see the same polls and the same pundits.
(speaking Russian) >> NARRATOR: Then as the upset became clear... >> Unbe-(bleep)-lievable.
>> Cause of jubilation.
Everybody was so happy because it was such a big surprise.
(cheering) >> ♪ We are the champions of the world!
♪ >> Everybody believed that there is a special agreement, secret agreement, between the elites to get Clinton elected.
>> NARRATOR: Behind the scenes at the Duma... (speaking Russian) ...some Russian legislators collectively raised a champagne toast.
>> They didn't expect Trump to win.
They just thought they were going to bloody Clinton's nose.
They didn't expect to break her neck.
>> NARRATOR: Trump's election was seen as a sign of strength for Putin.
>> It did demonstrate to ordinary Russians Putin is deciding the fate of American elections.
It is taken as a sign of Putin's greatness and of Russia's greatness, as well.
(man speaking Russian) >> Donald Trump's surprise win and uncertainty surrounding... >> What may be one of the biggest political stunners in U.S. history.
>> I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear... >> NARRATOR: On January 20... >> ...I will faithfully execute... >> NARRATOR: ...the candidate Putin had supported became the president of the United States.
>> ...to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.
(man speaking Russian) >> (translated): I don't know who in America believed that Putin elected Trump.
But Putin believed that.
Putin believed that.
>> NARRATOR: Trump rode to victory promising to make America great again, but the story of Russian interference would continue.
>> The Russian cloud was with Trump on day one at the inauguration.
It's with him months later.
And it will probably be with him even until the end of his presidency.
>> Michael Flynn resigning under fire... >> Sessions doubles down, categorically denying that... >> ...has recused himself... >> NARRATOR: His presidency was increasingly consumed by questions about possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.
>> This is a story that won't go away.
And it eats away at Trump.
He watches TV, he sees it in the paper, he hears people talk about it, and it just gnaws at him.
>> ...Moscow bank that acts as a front for Russian espionage.
>> President Trump has fired James Comey as the director of the FBI.
>> President Trump now facing outrage after firing Comey.
>> NARRATOR: Vladimir Putin is now at the center of a major American political scandal.
>> The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia.
>> Putin has strutted back onto the stage, you know, shoulders back, saying, "Russia is here."
But he's also created a terrible backlash, and I don't think we know yet where that's going to lead.
>> A bill slapping new sanctions on Russia now headed to the president's desk.
>> NARRATOR: The conflict between Putin's Russia and America only seems to deepen.
>> President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russians... >> ...break the law and did he compromise national security as... >> Mr. Putin sees these things in zero-sum fashion.
If the U.S. president, or the U.S., is diminished in the eyes of the world, it just benefits Russia.
To me, I think Mr. Putin sees this as a tremendous success.
>> ...tracking reaction tonight to the appointment of a special counsel to the Russia... >> ...the bombshell email chain on Donald Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting... >> NARRATOR: A spy, a master bureaucrat, a strongman.
Vladimir Putin and his quest for revenge has cast a shadow over American democracy.
>> Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued subpoenas to... >> Well, he's gotta be pretty happy.
He personally, and the Russians collectively, way exceeded expectations, which was to sow discord and discontent in this country.
And they-they succeeded eminently.
>> Facebook has been under scrutiny for weeks after admitting Russians used the platform... >> By the way, the Russians aren't going to stop.
Their experience in our 2016 election is going to embolden them to interfere in the future, maybe more aggressively.
>> Three people with ties to President Trump are now facing charges... >> Manafort and Gates indicted by a federal grand jury on twelve counts... >> The former Trump campaign aid has plead guilty... >> Has plead guilty and is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline to explore the "Putin Files," part of "Frontline's" transparency project, our extensive interviews from "Putin's Revenge"... >> By the way, the Russians aren't going to stop.
>> They're just collecting... >> Connect to the "Frontline" community on Facebook and Twitter, and pbs.org/frontline.
>> Sandy swirls along the East Coast.
>> Thousands of us are still not home yet.
>> You would talk to one person, and then another person.
You would get a totally different story.
And nothing's been accomplished.
>> I saw blanket denials across the board.
>> $400 million in profit.
How do you explain that?
>> Well, we're providing oversight-- it was not enough.
>> NARRATOR: "Frontline" and NPR investigate "Business of Disaster."
♪ ♪ >> For more on this and other "Frontline" programs, visit our website at pbs.org/frontline.
>> Frontline "Putin's Revenge" is available on DVD.
To order, visit shopPBS.org or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.
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