WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence Committee — in a major split with its House counterpart — said Wednesday that it agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that the Russian government tried to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton by meddling in the 2016 election.
That bipartisan conclusion was announced by Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., in a statement after a closed hearing with former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan and former National Security Agency director Mike Rogers.
The Senate committee's agreement with the intelligence agencies stands in stark contrast to the House Intelligence Committee, where the Republican majority disputed the conclusion that the Russians tried to help Trump defeat Clinton.
"The first task in our inquiry was to evaluate the intelligence community’s work on this important piece of analysis," Burr said, referring to a report in January 2017 by U.S. intelligence agencies.
"Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions," Burr said. "There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections."
Warner said the committee's investigation showed that the intelligence agencies did "a very good job" in a short amount of time in assessing Russia's actions and motives for meddling in the election.
"The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by (Russian) President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton," Warner said.
"In order to protect our democracy from future threats, we must understand what happened in 2016," Warner said. "And while our committee’s investigation remains ongoing, one thing is already abundantly clear — we have to do a better job in the future if we want to protect our elections from foreign interference."
Republicans on the House committee said U.S. intelligence agencies failed to prove their conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to help Trump beat Clinton. Clinton questioned the legitimacy of Russian elections while she was secretary of State, angering Putin.
Republicans on the House committee ended their inquiry in March after concluding there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Democrats strongly disagreed and continued to investigate on their own.
Democrats on the House committee said Wednesday that they agree with the conclusion reached by the Senate panel. House Republicans had no immediate comment.
"I fully concur with the conclusion of the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the (intelligence community's) determination that Russia sought to help the Trump campaign, hurt Hillary Clinton and sow discord in the United States is fully supported by the evidence," said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House committee.
The Senate committee, which remained bipartisan in its investigation, is still looking into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Burr said he expects the panel's staff to draft a final report in August, while Congress is in recess. The earliest that senators are likely to release the report would be September.
One of the report's chapters will go into greater detail about why the committee agrees with the intelligence agencies' report in 2017.
"I look forward to completing the committee’s inquiry and issuing our findings and recommendations to the American people," Burr said.