In the weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, CIA analysts who work on Russia updated their assessment about Russian cyber meddling. They previously had assessed that Russia was trying to undermine the U.S. presidential election, but after Nov. 8 they came to believe that Russian interference was ultimately designed to help Trump win.
This latest finding fed an already blazing public dispute between the U.S. intelligence agencies and the president-elect over Russian interference in the election.
"I don't believe it," Trump said in an interview broadcast Sunday on Fox News, disputing the notion that the Russians wanted to help him. "I think it's ridiculous."
Trump and his aides reject not just the CIA's updated assessment about Russian intentions, but the earlier consensus reached by all 17 agencies, and released in a rare joint public statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and DHS head Jeh Johnson, that Russia was meddling in the election in the first place.
The seriousness of the gulf can hardly be overstated: many foreign policy experts and lawmakers believe Russia's behavior was an attack on the nation. One former CIA leader, Hillary Clinton supporter Michael Morell, likened Russia's intrusion into U.S. politics Friday to "the political equivalent of 9/11."
In fact, the CIA's latest take is not the unanimous view of the intelligence community. Clapper, who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, had enough confidence to relay the CIA's assessment to Congress in a secret briefing last week. But no similar assessment has leaked from any of the other 16 intelligence agencies.