No country on earth would survive should the world’s most powerful nuclear states unleash their atomic weapons, Vladimir Putin has said. His remarks form part of a series of interviews with American film director Oliver Stone. The question of whether the human race would survive a potential global nuclear war has tormented the minds of generations, and indeed Stone, who wondered if the Russian president believes the US might emerge victorious if such a conflict were to break out. “In a hot war is the US dominant?” the American director asked the Russian president. “I don’t think anyone would survive such a conflict,” Vladimir Putin replied in a short Showtime teaser, a precursor to a documentary titled ‘The Putin Interviews’. Putin then proves he has the pulse on Russia’s military strategy and tactics. As part of the preview, the clip shows Stone and Vladimir Putin in the situation room where the Russian leader demonstrated that he is on top of developments playing out in the Syrian military theater. “Pilot says he is going to make another attempt,” Putin tells the US director while showing him a live feed from a military jet on a smartphone. Stone then asks if there’s “any hope of change” in US-Russian relations, which both countries have acknowledged are at the lowest point since the Cold War. “There is always hope. Until they are ready to bring us to the cemetery and bury us,” Vladimir Putin replied. Apart from the teaser, Showtime has also uploaded two separate interview segments that touched on Russia-NATO relations and the numerous assassination attempts on the Russian president. Describing NATO an an instrument of American foreign policy, Putin said the alliance’s members inevitably become US “vassals.” “Once a country becomes a NATO member, it is hard to resist the pressures of the US. And all of a sudden any weapons system can be placed in this country. An anti-ballistic missile system, new military bases and if need be, new offensive systems,” Putin explained. Russia, Putin says, is forced to take countermeasures over the ever-increasing NATO threat and armed military build-up on Russia’s borders. “We have to aim our missile systems at facilities that are threatening us. The situation becomes more tense,” Vladimir Putin said. In the third clip, published Tuesday by Showtime, Stone claimed he had credible information that the Russian leader survived at least five assassination attempts, which Putin implied were successfully thwarted by his security team. “I do my job and the Security Officers do theirs, and they are still performing quite successfully,” Putin said, adding, “I trust them.” Recalling a Russian proverb, Vladimir Putin told Stone that “those who are destined to be hanged are not going to drown.” “What is your fate sir, do you know?” Stone asked. “Only God knows our destiny – yours and mine,” the President replied. “One day, this is going to happen to each and every one of us. The question is what we will have accomplished by then in this transient world, and whether we’ll have enjoyed our life?”
Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.
The New York Times’s examination of the Uranium One deal is based on dozens of interviews, as well as a review of public records and securities filings in Canada, Russia and the United States. Some of the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer, a former fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book “Clinton Cash.” Mr. Schweizer provided a preview of material in the book to The Times, which scrutinized his information and built upon it with its own reporting.
Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown. But the episode underscores the special ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation, headed by a former president who relied heavily on foreign cash to accumulate $250 million in assets even as his wife helped steer American foreign policy as secretary of state, presiding over decisions with the potential to benefit the foundation’s donors.
In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, said no one “has ever produced a shred of evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation.” He emphasized that multiple United States agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled at a level below the secretary. “To suggest the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue influence in the U.S. government’s review of the sale of Uranium One is utterly baseless,” he added.
American political campaigns are barred from accepting foreign donations. But foreigners may give to foundations in the United States. In the days since Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy for president, the Clinton Foundation has announced changes meant to quell longstanding concerns about potential conflicts of interest in such donations; it has limited donations from foreign governments, with many, like Russia’s, barred from giving to all but its health care initiatives. That policy stops short of a more stringent agreement between Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration that was in effect while she was secretary of state.
Either way, the Uranium One deal highlights the limits of such prohibitions. The foundation will continue to accept contributions from foreign sources whose interests, like Uranium One’s, may overlap with those of foreign governments, some of which may be at odds with the United States.
When the Uranium One deal was approved, the geopolitical backdrop was far different from today’s. The Obama administration was seeking to “reset” strained relations with Russia. The deal was strategically important to Mr. Putin, who shortly after the Americans gave their blessing sat down for a staged interview with Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei Kiriyenko. “Few could have imagined in the past that we would own 20 percent of U.S. reserves,” Mr. Kiriyenko told Mr. Putin.
Now, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, the Moscow-Washington relationship is devolving toward Cold War levels, a point several experts made in evaluating a deal so beneficial to Mr. Putin, a man known to use energy resources to project power around the world.
“Should we be concerned? Absolutely,” said Michael McFaul, who served under Mrs. Clinton as the American ambassador to Russia but said he had been unaware of the Uranium One deal until asked about it. “Do we want Putin to have a monopoly on this? Of course we don’t. We don’t want to be dependent on Putin for anything in this climate.”
The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator.
Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom.
If the Kazakh deal was a major victory, UrAsia did not wait long before resuming the hunt. In 2007, it merged with Uranium One, a South African company with assets in Africa and Australia, in what was described as a $3.5 billion transaction. The new company, which kept the Uranium One name, was controlled by UrAsia investors including Ian Telfer, a Canadian who became chairman. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Giustra, whose personal stake in the deal was estimated at about $45 million, said he sold his stake in 2007.
Still, the company’s story was hardly front-page news in the United States — until early 2008, in the midst of Mrs. Clinton’s failed presidential campaign, when The Times published an article revealing the 2005 trip’s link to Mr. Giustra’s Kazakhstan mining deal. It also reported that several months later, Mr. Giustra had donated $31.3 million to Mr. Clinton’s foundation.
(In a statement issued after this article appeared online, Mr. Giustra said he was “extremely proud” of his charitable work with Mr. Clinton, and he urged the media to focus on poverty, health care and “the real challenges of the world.”)
Though the 2008 article quoted the former head of Kazatomprom, Moukhtar Dzhakishev, as saying that the deal required government approval and was discussed at a dinner with the president, Mr. Giustra insisted that it was a private transaction, with no need for Mr. Clinton’s influence with Kazakh officials. He described his relationship with Mr. Clinton as motivated solely by a shared interest in philanthropy.
As if to underscore the point, five months later Mr. Giustra held a fund-raiser for the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative, a project aimed at fostering progressive environmental and labor practices in the natural resources industry, to which he had pledged $100 million. The star-studded gala, at a conference center in Toronto, featured performances by Elton John and Shakira and celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Robin Williams encouraging contributions from the many so-called F.O.F.s — Friends of Frank — in attendance, among them Mr. Telfer. In all, the evening generated $16 million in pledges, according to an article in The Globe and Mail.
“None of this would have been possible if Frank Giustra didn’t have a remarkable combination of caring and modesty, of vision and energy and iron determination,” Mr. Clinton told those gathered, adding: “I love this guy, and you should, too.”
But what had been a string of successes was about to hit a speed bump.
Arrest and Progress
By June 2009, a little over a year after the star-studded evening in Toronto, Uranium One’s stock was in free-fall, down 40 percent. Mr. Dzhakishev, the head of Kazatomprom, had just been arrested on charges that he illegally sold uranium deposits to foreign companies, including at least some of those won by Mr. Giustra’s UrAsia and now owned by Uranium One.
Publicly, the company tried to reassure shareholders. Its chief executive, Jean Nortier, issued a confident statement calling the situation a “complete misunderstanding.” He also contradicted Mr. Giustra’s contention that the uranium deal had not required government blessing. “When you do a transaction in Kazakhstan, you need the government’s approval,” he said, adding that UrAsia had indeed received that approval.
But privately, Uranium One officials were worried they could lose their joint mining ventures. American diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks also reflect concerns that Mr. Dzhakishev’s arrest was part of a Russian power play for control of Kazakh uranium assets.
At the time, Russia was already eying a stake in Uranium One, Rosatom company documents show. Rosatom officials say they were seeking to acquire mines around the world because Russia lacks sufficient domestic reserves to meet its own industry needs.
It was against this backdrop that the Vancouver-based Uranium One pressed the American Embassy in Kazakhstan, as well as Canadian diplomats, to take up its cause with Kazakh officials, according to the American cables.
“We want more than a statement to the press,” Paul Clarke, a Uranium One executive vice president, told the embassy’s energy officer on June 10, the officer reported in a cable. “That is simply chitchat.” What the company needed, Mr. Clarke said, was official written confirmation that the licenses were valid.
The American Embassy ultimately reported to the secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton. Though the Clarke cable was copied to her, it was given wide circulation, and it is unclear if she would have read it; the Clinton campaign did not address questions about the cable.
What is clear is that the embassy acted, with the cables showing that the energy officer met with Kazakh officials to discuss the issue on June 10 and 11.
Three days later, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosatom completed a deal for 17 percent of Uranium One. And within a year, the Russian government substantially upped the ante, with a generous offer to shareholders that would give it a 51 percent controlling stake. But first, Uranium One had to get the American government to sign off on the deal.
Among the Donors to the Clinton Foundation
The Power to Say No
When a company controlled by the Chinese government sought a 51 percent stake in a tiny Nevada gold mining operation in 2009, it set off a secretive review process in Washington, where officials raised concerns primarily about the mine’s proximity to a military installation, but also about the potential for minerals at the site, including uranium, to come under Chinese control. The officials killed the deal.
Such is the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The committee comprises some of the most powerful members of the cabinet, including the attorney general, the secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy, and the secretary of state. They are charged with reviewing any deal that could result in foreign control of an American business or asset deemed important to national security.
The national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation; the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.
Instead, it concerned American dependence on foreign uranium sources. While the United States gets one-fifth of its electrical power from nuclear plants, it produces only around 20 percent of the uranium it needs, and most plants have only 18 to 36 months of reserves, according to Marin Katusa, author of “The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped From America’s Grasp.”
When ARMZ, an arm of Rosatom, took its first 17 percent stake in Uranium One in 2009, the two parties signed an agreement, found in securities filings, to seek the foreign investment committee’s review. But it was the 2010 deal, giving the Russians a controlling 51 percent stake, that set off alarm bells. Four members of the House of Representatives signed a letter expressing concern. Two more began pushing legislation to kill the deal.
Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, where Uranium One’s largest American operation was, wrote to President Obama, saying the deal “would give the Russian government control over a sizable portion of America’s uranium production capacity.”
“Equally alarming,” Mr. Barrasso added, “this sale gives ARMZ a significant stake in uranium mines in Kazakhstan.”
Uranium One’s shareholders were also alarmed, and were “afraid of Rosatom as a Russian state giant,” Sergei Novikov, a company spokesman, recalled in an interview. He said Rosatom’s chief, Mr. Kiriyenko, sought to reassure Uranium One investors, promising that Rosatom would not break up the company and would keep the same management, including Mr. Telfer, the chairman. Another Rosatom official said publicly that it did not intend to increase its investment beyond 51 percent, and that it envisioned keeping Uranium One a public company
American nuclear officials, too, seemed eager to assuage fears. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wrote to Mr. Barrasso assuring him that American uranium would be preserved for domestic use, regardless of who owned it.
“In order to export uranium from the United States, Uranium One Inc. or ARMZ would need to apply for and obtain a specific NRC license authorizing the export of uranium for use as reactor fuel,” the letter said.
Still, the ultimate authority to approve or reject the Russian acquisition rested with the cabinet officials on the foreign investment committee, including Mrs. Clinton — whose husband was collecting millions in donations from people associated with Uranium One.
Before Mrs. Clinton could assume her post as secretary of state, the White House demanded that she sign a memorandum of understanding placing limits on the activities of her husband’s foundation. To avoid the perception of conflicts of interest, beyond the ban on foreign government donations, the foundation was required to publicly disclose all contributors.
To judge from those disclosures — which list the contributions in ranges rather than precise amounts — the only Uranium One official to give to the Clinton Foundation was Mr. Telfer, the chairman, and the amount was relatively small: no more than $250,000, and that was in 2007, before talk of a Rosatom deal began percolating.
But a review of tax records in Canada, where Mr. Telfer has a family charity called the Fernwood Foundation, shows that he donated millions of dollars more, during and after the critical time when the foreign investment committee was reviewing his deal with the Russians. With the Russians offering a special dividend, shareholders like Mr. Telfer stood to profit.
His donations through the Fernwood Foundation included $1 million reported in 2009, the year his company appealed to the American Embassy to help it keep its mines in Kazakhstan; $250,000 in 2010, the year the Russians sought majority control; as well as $600,000 in 2011 and $500,000 in 2012. Mr. Telfer said that his donations had nothing to do with his business dealings, and that he had never discussed Uranium One with Mr. or Mrs. Clinton. He said he had given the money because he wanted to support Mr. Giustra’s charitable endeavors with Mr. Clinton. “Frank and I have been friends and business partners for almost 20 years,” he said.
The Clinton campaign left it to the foundation to reply to questions about the Fernwood donations; the foundation did not provide a response.
Amid this influx of Uranium One-connected money, Mr. Clinton was invited to speak in Moscow in June 2010, the same month Rosatom struck its deal for a majority stake in Uranium One.
The $500,000 fee — among Mr. Clinton’s highest — was paid by Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin that has invited world leaders, including Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, to speak at its investor conferences.
Renaissance Capital analysts talked up Uranium One’s stock, assigning it a “buy” rating and saying in a July 2010 research report that it was “the best play” in the uranium markets. In addition, Renaissance Capital turned up that same year as a major donor, along with Mr. Giustra and several companies linked to Uranium One or UrAsia, to a small medical charity in Colorado run by a friend of Mr. Giustra’s. In a newsletter to supporters, the friend credited Mr. Giustra with helping get donations from “businesses around the world.”
Renaissance Capital would not comment on the genesis of Mr. Clinton’s speech to an audience that included leading Russian officials, or on whether it was connected to the Rosatom deal. According to a Russian government news service, Mr. Putin personally thanked Mr. Clinton for speaking.
A person with knowledge of the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising operation, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about it, said that for many people, the hope is that money will in fact buy influence: “Why do you think they are doing it — because they love them?” But whether it actually does is another question. And in this case, there were broader geopolitical pressures that likely came into play as the United States considered whether to approve the Rosatom-Uranium One deal.
If doing business with Rosatom was good for those in the Uranium One deal, engaging with Russia was also a priority of the incoming Obama administration, which was hoping for a new era of cooperation as Mr. Putin relinquished the presidency — if only for a term — to Dmitri A. Medvedev.
“The assumption was we could engage Russia to further core U.S. national security interests,” said Mr. McFaul, the former ambassador.
It started out well. The two countries made progress on nuclear proliferation issues, and expanded use of Russian territory to resupply American forces in Afghanistan. Keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was among the United States’ top priorities, and in June 2010 Russia signed off on a United Nations resolution imposing tough new sanctions on that country.
Two months later, the deal giving ARMZ a controlling stake in Uranium One was submitted to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States for review. Because of the secrecy surrounding the process, it is hard to know whether the participants weighed the desire to improve bilateral relations against the potential risks of allowing the Russian government control over the biggest uranium producer in the United States. The deal was ultimately approved in October, following what two people involved in securing the approval said had been a relatively smooth process.
Not all of the committee’s decisions are personally debated by the agency heads themselves; in less controversial cases, deputy or assistant secretaries may sign off. But experts and former committee members say Russia’s interest in Uranium One and its American uranium reserves seemed to warrant attention at the highest levels.
“This deal had generated press, it had captured the attention of Congress and it was strategically important,” said Richard Russell, who served on the committee during the George W. Bush administration. “When I was there invariably any one of those conditions would cause this to get pushed way up the chain, and here you had all three.”
And Mrs. Clinton brought a reputation for hawkishness to the process; as a senator, she was a vocal critic of the committee’s approval of a deal that would have transferred the management of major American seaports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates, and as a presidential candidate she had advocated legislation to strengthen the process.
The Clinton campaign spokesman, Mr. Fallon, said that in general, these matters did not rise to the secretary’s level. He would not comment on whether Mrs. Clinton had been briefed on the matter, but he gave The Times a statement from the former assistant secretary assigned to the foreign investment committee at the time, Jose Fernandez. While not addressing the specifics of the Uranium One deal, Mr. Fernandez said, “Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any C.F.I.U.S. matter.”
Mr. Fallon also noted that if any agency had raised national security concerns about the Uranium One deal, it could have taken them directly to the president.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department’s director of policy planning at the time, said she was unaware of the transaction — or the extent to which it made Russia a dominant uranium supplier. But speaking generally, she urged caution in evaluating its wisdom in hindsight.
“Russia was not a country we took lightly at the time or thought was cuddly,” she said. “But it wasn’t the adversary it is today.”
That renewed adversarial relationship has raised concerns about European dependency on Russian energy resources, including nuclear fuel. The unease reaches beyond diplomatic circles. In Wyoming, where Uranium One equipment is scattered across his 35,000-acre ranch, John Christensen is frustrated that repeated changes in corporate ownership over the years led to French, South African, Canadian and, finally, Russian control over mining rights on his property.
“I hate to see a foreign government own mining rights here in the United States,” he said. “I don’t think that should happen.”
Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license — which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing plant in Canada.
Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has, in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers, said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being shipped from the Wyoming mines.
The “no export” assurance given at the time of the Rosatom deal is not the only one that turned out to be less than it seemed. Despite pledges to the contrary, Uranium One was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange and taken private. As of 2013, Rosatom’s subsidiary, ARMZ, owned 100 percent of it.
Correction: April 23, 2015 An earlier version of this article misstated, in one instance, the surname of a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is Peter Schweizer, not Schweitzer. An earlier version also incorrectly described the Clinton Foundation’s agreement with the Obama administration regarding foreign-government donations while Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state. Under the agreement, the foundation would not accept new donations from foreign governments, though it could seek State Department waivers in specific cases. It was not barred from accepting all foreign-government donations.
Correction: April 30, 2015 An article on Friday about contributions to the Clinton Foundation from people associated with a Canadian uranium-mining company described incorrectly the foundation’s agreement with the Obama administration regarding foreign-government donations while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Under the agreement, the foundation would not accept new donations from foreign governments, though it could seek State Department waivers in specific cases. The foundation was not barred from accepting all foreign-government donations.
The President-elect “wants every country to be responsible for its own development and this is an attitude we can relate to,” he told reporters at a news conference, reiterating Russia’s criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration, NATO and the European Union.
“Donald Trump has unique views that differ from the views of his predecessors, both Democrats and Republicans,” Lavrov said. “And at the core of it is the interest of United States as Donald Trump sees it. When we hear that his main focus is fighting terrorism, of course we will support it because this is actually what our American partners have been missing up until now.”
Russia has also come to the fore in U.S. politics amid allegations that it hacked American institutions including the Democratic National Convention. Outgoing CIA director John Brennan said Sunday that Trump lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to America.
While being broadly positive about the relationship with the new administration, Russia’s top diplomat did sound an ominous note on NATO escalation at Russia’s borders, especially the Baltic states.
“If the NATO forces do not see any other place for themselves aside from the Russian-Estonian border, it means their Intelligence services are not doing a good job as they don’t see what is happening in other areas,” Lavrov said.
“I hope our cooperation in regards to the Syrian crisis and fighting terrorism will be more successful than the one we had with President Obama’s administration,” Lavrov said.
Russia is a major backer of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who the United States opposes, and has helped tip the balance of the war in the president’s favor.
Lavrov made a point of mentioning Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s comment at last week’s Congressional confirmation hearing that “Russia is a threat but Russia is not unpredictable.” That statement is important, said Lavrov.
Lavrov also referred to the alleged of Russian hacking of U.S. organizations, saying the claims were “false.”
“We’ve seen some poor accusations that don’t hold water, that since have been shrugged off by the British and their American counterparts who tried to jeopardize the new administration,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov also took a swipe at what he called “the messianic obsession of the west” with exporting its values, such as democracy.
Russia isn’t trying to export anything, especially not values, he said, adding that the concept of a unipolar world was “obsolete” because there are “many centers of power.”
Citing “multiple” unnamed US officials with direct knowledge of the meeting, CNN said the intelligence chiefs presented a two-page synopsis on the potential embarrassment for the incoming president along with their classified briefing on Friday on alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.
President Barack Obama was also briefed on the issue on Thursday.
CNN gave no details of what the so-called compromising information is, but said knowledge of its existence in Russian hands originally came from a former British MI-6 intelligence operative hired by other US presidential contenders to do political “opposition research” on Trump in the middle of last year.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had been given the information in August, more than two months before the November 8 election, according to CNN.
“What has changed since then is that US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations” to Trump, CNN said.
The existence of the information on Trump in Russian hands has been rumored since before the election.
The rumors gained support when the then Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, said in a letter to FBI Director James Comey a week before the vote: “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government -– a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information.”
Asked about this in a Senate hearing Tuesday, Comey refused to confirm or deny that his agency was investigating such links.
US intelligence has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an operation to meddle in the US election to hurt the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton with embarrassing hacked emails, and then to boost Trump when they thought he had a chance to win.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed the conclusion that Moscow influenced the election while expressing the need to smooth over bilateral relations deeply strained during the Obama presidency.
Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday: “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!”
He was referring to the Democratic National Committee, whose email accounts were hacked during the election campaign.
Key findings from the report – full excerpts here:
Hacking into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and top Democrats Using intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0 persona to release the information acquired from the hackings Using state-funded propaganda and paying social media users or “trolls” to make nasty comments After being briefed by intelligence chiefs on the report on Friday, the president-elect declined to mention Russia, but did say he had “tremendous respect for the work and service done” by those in the US intelligence community.
He also insisted the election outcome was not affected.
Trump Tweetwatch: ‘I’m a big fan’ of intelligence agencies
In the wake of the report, the US Department of Homeland Security announced that voting machines and other election databases would be classified as “critical infrastructure” and given more protection from cyber-attacks.
The unclassified part of the report says that the Kremlin developed a “clear preference” for Mr Trump.
A US report said Vladimir Putin had “ordered a campaign” to influence the US election Russia’s goals, the document added, were to “undermine public faith” in the US democratic process and “denigrate” his Democrat opponent Hillary Clinton, harming her electability and potential presidency.
“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” it said.
It gives no detailed evidence of Mr Putin’s alleged role.
The report says Mr Putin liked Mr Trump because he had vowed to work with Moscow and the Russian leader had had “many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder”.
Mr Putin has called Mr Trump “a clever man” who should “quickly understand” his role.
Russia has not commented on the report but has previously denied the claims about influencing the election.
Last week, President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US over the alleged hacking. Russia has said it will not reciprocate.
On Saturday, Mr Trump confirmed that Dan Coats, a previously vocal critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, would be his new national intelligence director.
The Kremlin has yet to react to the report but state media rubbished it.
“The headline-grabbing accusations are based on TV programmes, posts on social networks and material from entertainment publications,” Russia’s most-watched TV station Channel One said.
Official state Rossiya 1 TV viewed the report through the prism of future relations between the two countries.
Its Washington correspondent Alexander Khristenko said the report was an “attempt to undermine the president-elect’s legitimacy”.
“Donald Trump himself remained critically-minded about the intelligence services’ conclusions,” he said, adding that “this is clearly not the sort of reaction from Trump that Washington hawks were counting on.”
“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the report continued.
The report said Moscow used a variety of tactics in a bid to sway the outcome.
“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyberactivity — with overt efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’ ” the report found.
The US intelligence community released several new pieces of information to support its conclusions.
It noted that in the final run-up to the election, when polls favored Clinton to win the election, Moscow shifted its campaign to influence the election to one aimed at undermining the validity of the electoral results.
“Before the election, Russian diplomats had already publicly denounced the US electoral process and were prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the results,” the reported stated, adding that pro-Russian government bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign on Election Night using the hashtag “#DemocracyRIP.”
US intelligence officials also assessed “with high confidence” that the GRU Russian intelligence agency “used the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to release US victim data obtained in cyberoperations publicly.” The intelligence community also assessed “with high confidence” that the GRU provided WikiLeaks with the material they obtained from hacking the Democratic National Committee and top Democratic officials.
US intelligence agencies also noted in the report that the Russian influence campaign was not limited to the cyberhacking and release of private documents that drew headlines during the presidential campaign.
The propaganda efforts included Russian state-owned media outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik casting Trump as “the target of unfair coverage from traditional US media outlets” as well as Russian propaganda officials casting Trump during the campaign as a victim of the US political establishment.
Meanwhile, the intelligence community noted that “RT’s coverage of Secretary Clinton … was consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health, and ties to Islamic extremism.”
Clinton’s campaign first argued Russia was aiming to help Trump back in July, to which Trump’s campaign called the comment “a joke.” After the election, Clinton argued to donors that Putin got involved in the 2016 election partially due to a grudge against her, a view that’s backed up in Friday’s report.
“Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him,” the report said.
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. But Jesse Lehrich, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, expressed vindication Friday afternoon, tweeting:
REPORTER: what about *this* @wikileaks email?
ME: part of an unprecedented foreign cyberattack!!!
REPORTER: so… no comment?”
REPORTER: what about *this* @wikileaks email?
ME: part of an unprecedented foreign cyberattack!!!
REPORTER: so… no comment?
— Jesse Lehrich (@JesseLehrich) January 6, 2017 Trump briefed
The report, which was commissioned by President Barack Obama, comes as Trump has continued to resist the US intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia was responsible for the hacking and that it aimed to help his campaign.
Trump was briefed earlier Friday on the report by top US intelligence and law enforcement officials, and while he said he had “a constructive meeting,” he declined to publicly agree with their conclusions.
Instead, Trump stressed that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome whatsoever,” which the US intelligence community asserted in its report it was not in a position to assess.
Trump did acknowledge in his statement the possibility that Russia could have been behind the hack, though he named China as well as a persistent cyberhacker.
The US intelligence community also warned in its report Friday that Moscow would likely continue to pursue cyberhacking campaigns to influence future elections.
“Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes,” it assessed.
The 17 US intelligence agencies first concluded in October that Russian intelligence, directed by the most senior Russian officials, orchestrated the hacking of Democratic Party organizations.
But since then, the US intelligence community said it had gathered additional information to make assessments of the motivations behind the cyberhacking operations: that the effort was aimed at undermining the US democratic process, hurting Clinton and helping Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
NBC News: Intelligence officials say Putin personally involved in election hack William Cummings | USA TODAYUpdated 11 hours ago
Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in efforts to intervene in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, NBC News reported, citing two unnamed “senior U.S. intelligence officials.”
New intelligence links Putin directly to the leaks from hacked Democratic National Committee emails, the officials told NBC News with “a high level of confidence.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with members of the WorldSkills Russian national team in the …more
Alexey Nikolsky, epa
A high-level intelligence source said the campaign began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton, NBC News reported. The goal grew into an effort to expose corruption in U.S. politics and to undermine America’s international credibility, according to NBC.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the report Thursday as “nonsense,” according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
“I was astonished when I saw it,” Lavrov said. “I think, this is nothing but nonsense, there is not a chance that anybody could believe that.”
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The NBC News report comes after last week’s report from The Washington Post, also citing unnamed intelligence sources, which said the CIA believed that Russia not only interfered in the election, but did so with the intention of helping Donald Trump win. Although U.S. intelligence agencies agree Russia was behind several hacks during the campaign, including that of the DNC, the CIA is thus far the only agency reported to have reached the conclusion that the efforts were explicitly meant to benefit Trump.
On Oct. 7, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement on behalf of the U.S. Intelligence Community expressing confidence that the “Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” The ODNI and FBI do not believe there is enough evidence to conclude the cyber attacks were intended to help Trump win, however.
Given Putin’s authoritarian control over the Russian government, it is logical that any intervention in the U.S. election would have required the former KGB officer’s approval. In the October statement, the 17 American intelligence agencies said, “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
With Trump criticizing the CIA—rather than Russia—in the wake of the report, the New York Times reports he’s opening an “extraordinary breach” between himself and the national security establishment he’s bound to need during his presidency.
Harry Reid is calling for the resignation of FBI director James Comey, who he compares to J. Edgar Hoover and accuses of covering up information about Russia’s activities to get Trump elected, the Guardian reports.
Meanwhile, John McCain says the close relationship between Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson—Trump’s likely secretary of state—and Vladimir Putin “a matter of concern,” the Hill reports. With Democrats needing only three GOP senators to vote against Tillerson, a McCain aide says a confirmation is unlikely. “Putin is a thug, bully, and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” McCain says.
Until now, intelligence sources have indicated that Russian hacking throughout the campaign that repeatedly exposed information overwhelmingly embarrassing for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was an effort to undermine Americans’ faith in their government.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” a senior U.S. official briefed on the CIA assessment told The Washington Post. “That’s the consensus view.”
The Trump camp has dismissed the report — along with the credibility of the U.S. intelligence community. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” said a statement by the Trump transition team. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s time to move on and ‘Make America great again.’”
(The claim that Trump had won one of the “biggest Electoral College victories in history” is simply not true. He ranks 44th out of 54 electoral votes of presidents since the 12th Amendment passed, Mother Jones reports.)
Leaked information through hacking operations traced by U.S. intelligence to Russia was eerily silent on Trump and the Republican Party throughout the presidential campaign. Yet the same operations exposed troves of secret, sometimes embarrassing, personal communication involving Clinton and internal planning by the Democratic National Committee.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia hacked the Republican National Committee but chose not to release the information, according to a report in the New York Times late Friday.
In addition, intelligence officials discovered breaches by Russian government-linked hackers into the voter registration databases of at least two states.
Links to hackers and the Russian government were detected by U.S. intelligence earlier this year. But Trump dismissed a Russian hand in the operations. He again this week blasted the intelligence findings, even before the latest assessment emerged, as politically motivated and not based on hard evidence.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe [Russia] interfered,” Trump told Time magazine in his “Person of the Year” interview released Wednesday.
“That became a laughing point, not a talking point,” he added. “Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.’”
The hacking, he said, “could be Russia, it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
Yet at one point during the campaign in July, he appeared to appeal to Russia for hacking help, saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email servers. The seeming request for a foreign government to breach U.S. internet security sparked a storm of controversy, and Trump later insisted he was only being “sarcastic.”
In a September intelligence briefing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly expressed suspicion about Russian links to campaign hacking. He hasn’t commented on The Washington Post’s report on the latest CIA information.
The chilling assessment that it’s “quite clear” Russia’s goal was to get Trump elected was shared with key senators last week in a Capitol Hill briefing, the Post reported. CIA officials cited a mounting body of evidence from several sources. Intelligence agencies have identified specific individuals with connections to the Russian government who are believed to have provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails, according to The Washington Post.
Obama has ordered a “full review” of Russian hacking in the campaign following pressure from Congress, the White House announced Friday. He expects to receive an intelligence report on any election interference before he leaves office. Congress will also be briefed on the report.
“We’ve seen in 2008, and this last election system, malicious cyber-activity,” Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, told reporters. “We may be crossing a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened and to impart those lessons learned.”
This article has been updated to include new details on where Trump ranks in electoral votes of presidents.
The review, led by intelligence agencies, will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyber activity” timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. The review will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.
“The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”
U.S. intelligence officials accused Russia of hacking into Democratic officials’ email accounts in an attempt to interfere with the presidential campaign. The Kremlin rejected the accusations.
In the months leading up to the election, email accounts of Democratic Party officials and a top Hillary Clinton campaign aide were breached, emails leaked and embarrassing and private emails posted online. Many Democrats believe the hackings benefited Republican Donald Trump’s bid. Trump has downplayed the possibility that Russia was involved.
Schultz said the president sought the probe as a way of improving U.S. defense against cyberattacks and was not intending to question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory.
“This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election,” Schultz said.
Obama’s move comes as Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Obama to declassify more information about Russia’s role, fearing that Trump, who has promised a warmer relationship with Moscow, may not prioritize the issue.
Given Trump’s statements, “there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee. If the administration doesn’t respond “forcefully” to such actions, “we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future,” he said.
The White House said it would make portions of the report public and would brief lawmakers and relevant state officials on the findings.
It emphasized the report would not focus solely on Russian operations or hacks involving Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Democratic National Committee accounts. Schultz stressed officials would be reviewing incidents going back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when the campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Obama were breached by hackers.
Intelligence officials have said Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyberattacks four years later.