Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence America’s presidential election in favour of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, US intelligence agencies have declared.
It was the US government’s first formal allegation supporting sensational claims that Mr Trump and his supporters have staunchly resisted.
The intelligence report, an unclassified version of a more detailed classified account given earlier to Mr Trump, the White House and congressional leaders, withheld the government’s evidence to back up its assertions.
Mr Trump, in a brief interview with The Associated Press, said he “learned a lot” from his discussions with intelligence officials, but declined to say whether he accepted their assertion that Russia had meddled in the election on his behalf.
“It was a really great meeting, I really like those people a lot,” said Mr Trump, who has challenged the intelligence community since winning the election. “I learned a lot and I think they did also. ”
Mr Trump would not detail what evidence he was presented with, saying only that he learned “a lot of confidential things”. Because Mr Trump is not yet president, he is legally constrained from revealing classified information.
He later tweeted: “Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense! ”
The unclassified version of the intelligence report was the most detailed public account to date of Russian efforts to interfere with the US political process, with actions that included hacking into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats like Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid “trolls” to make nasty comments on social media services, the report said. There was no suggestion that Russia affected actual vote counting or tampered with ballot machines. President Barack Obama requested the report last month and wanted it completed before inauguration day.
The report, for the first time, explicitly tied Mr Putin to the hackings, called it the “boldest effort yet” to influence a US election, and said the Russian government provided emails to WikiLeaks – something the website’s founder, Julian Assange, has repeatedly denied.
The intelligence agencies also said Russia will continue to try to influence future events in the US and worldwide, particularly among US allies.
Since Election Day, the intelligence agencies said, Russia has launched a “spear-phishing” campaign to try to trick people into revealing their email passwords, targeting US government employees and think tanks that specialise in national security, defence and foreign policy.
The report said: “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. ”
Mr Putin most likely wanted to discredit Clinton because he blames her for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he resents her for disparaging comments she has made about him, the report said.
The report was released shortly after intelligence officials finished briefing Mr Trump – a move probably intended to bolster the intelligence findings against criticism from the president-elect.
Mr Trump has been dismissive of the intelligence agencies’ claims of Russia’s involvement for months, long before he saw the classified information on Friday.