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The U.S. intelligence community on Friday accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 election in its strongest terms yet, alleging Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to undermine faith in the electoral process and developed a "clear preference" for President-elect Donald Trump.
The conclusions came in an unclassified report released Friday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that goes into the most detail yet on what it deems Russia's motives for meddling in the U.S. election. It excludes some information delivered in a classified report. President Barack Obama previously called for a full review and report on Russia's role in the election.
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said, adding that intelligence agencies have "high confidence" in that assessment.
It comes after the Obama administration late last month sanctioned nine entities and individuals it believes were involved in the alleged interference, straining tensions with Moscow ahead of the start of Trump's term. The president-elect has consistently questioned that Russia directed a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee or tried to meddle in the election, seeing the allegations as an attempt to discredit him.
The report accuses Putin of seeking to "undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin's regime." It said that Putin tried to discredit Clinton in particular because since 2011 he has blamed her for "inciting mass protests against his regime."
The intelligence community contended that it believes Moscow "will apply lessons learned from its campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes."
After a briefing with top intelligence officials Friday, Trump did not say whether he agreed with their assessment that Russia tried to influence the election, but acknowledged that Russia and others have mounted cyberattacks against the U.S. He insisted that recent hacks did not affect the election outcome.
The intelligence community in a statement Friday said it "did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election." It added that it did not believe vote tallying equipment was targeted or compromised.
The DNI report alleges the Russian strategy "blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or 'trolls.'" It said the intelligence community assessed "with high confidence" that Russian military intelligence used a persona and another platform to release information obtained in cyberattacks to media outlets and WikiLeaks.
"Russia's effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election represented a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations aimed at US elections," the report said.
Russia has denied directing an effort to influence the U.S. election process.
The intelligence community said Russia's operations during the election were "unprecedented" but followed a "longstanding strategy" designed to be deniable with front and false-flag organizations. It alleges the main Russian intelligence agency, GRU, used cyber operations, previously identified as phishing attacks, to "compromise the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures" and targeted institutions linked to both major parties.
It used the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks to distribute information gained in those cyberattacks, the report alleges. Russian intelligence services got access to DNC netowrks in July 2015 and kept it until at least June 2016, the report says.
Russian diplomats prepared to publicly question the election results if Clinton won, the report said. It alleges that pro-Kremlin bloggers prepared a hashtag, "DemocracyRIP," to use on Twitter on Election Night.
Russia also used propaganda arms to distribute negative coverage of Clinton and portray Trump positively, the report alleges. It said Russian government-funded outlets like RT and Sputnik "cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional U.S. media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment."
The intelligence community also cited those outlets' coverage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It gave examples of an English-language RT video from August titled, "Julian Assange Special: Do WikiLeaks Have the E-mail That'll Put Clinton in Prison?" and an interview with Assange called "Clinton and ISIS Funded by the Same Money," among others.
Read the full report below: