Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed efforts to try to swing the 2020 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, according to an American intelligence report released on Tuesday that sources said would likely trigger USA sanctions on Moscow.
The assessment was made in a 15-page declassified report into election interference released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
It said Russian-linked individuals had spread unsubstantiated claims about President Biden ahead of the 3 November election.
"We assess that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.", the report states.
The US intelligence report also found other foreign attempts to sway American voters in 2020 including a "multi-pronged covert influence campaign" by Iran meant to undercut Mr Trump. The report also punctures a counter-narrative pushed by Trump's allies that China was interfering on Biden's behalf, concluding that Beijing "did not deploy interference efforts". United States officials say they determined that Beijing valued a stable relationship with the USA and did not consider either election outcome as advantageous enough for it to risk getting caught with interference.
The report also says Putin authorized influence operations aimed at denigrating Biden, boosting Trump, undermining confidence in the election and exacerbating social divisions in the U.S.
Intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russian Federation also interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump's candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Kilimnik and Derkach met with and gave materials to Trump-linked people to push for formal investigations, and Derkach released four audio recordings to try to implicated Biden in corruption, it said. The document makes clear that even while Trump has cried foul about the legitimacy of the election, intelligence officials believe Russian Federation sought to influence people close to Trump as a way to tip the election in his favor.
Washington is expected to impose sanctions on Moscow as soon as next week because of the allegations, three sources said on condition of anonymity.
The Russian, Chinese and Cuban Embassies in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
In the wake of Russia's 2016 election interference, the US intelligence community dramatically increased its efforts to prevent a repeat.
The 15-page document is a declassified version of an election interference report that was provided to Trump on January 7, one day after a riot at the U.S. Capitol that occurred as Congress was gathering to certify the election results. The US intelligence community assessed that President Vladimir Putin himself authorized and oversaw disinformation efforts, including those by the Kremlin's intelligence services to sow disinformation about Biden.
The declassified report represented the most comprehensive intelligence assessment of foreign efforts to influence the 2020 vote. While Russia favored Trump, the report said, Russian actors "criticized" him when he took certain foreign policy actions, including the 2020 killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which were "at odds with Russia's preferences".
Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who served as Trump's 2016 campaign chairman.
The intelligence community's declassified report, which omits some details that may otherwise expose sensitive sources and methods, reflects the most comprehensive review of the government's ongoing efforts to combat foreign meddling in USA elections.
Trump fired the Department of Homeland Security's top cybersecurity official, after Krebs repeatedly assured the public past year that the country's voting systems were secure, no votes were changed or data altered.
"In late 2019, GRU cyber actors conducted a phishing campaign against subsidiaries of Burisma holdings, likely in an attempt to gather information related to President Biden's family and Burisma", the report states.
Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, when his father was VP.
Though Iran sought to exploit vulnerabilities on state election websites, and did "compromise U.S. entities associated with election infrastructure as a part of a broad targeting effort across multiple sectors worldwide", it did not attempt to manipulate votes or affect election infrastructure, the report concluded. "These efforts by US adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions".
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether sanctions would be imposed on Russian Federation as early as next week, which was first reported by CNN.