The CIA assessed in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides “are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations” aimed at undermining Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 election, according to a new report in The Washington Post.
“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November,” the first line of the assessment reads, the Post reported.
The CIA compiled its August 31 assessment with input from the National Security Agency and the FBI using public, unclassified and classified intelligence sources, the Post reported, citing two sources who reviewed the document.
The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment. CNN has also reached out to the National Security Agency and the FBI. The agencies declined to comment to the Post.
Former CIA officer Douglas London told CNN that the agency’s use of the word “probably” when concerning an issue of such importance means its “analysts are sufficiently confident based on their deep expertise to put their reputations on the line in making such a call.”
“It means the intel is good enough that they’re not guessing, but have enough pieces of the puzzle to confidently make out the image,” London said.
While US intelligence has publicly accused Russia of actively interfering in the 2020 election, seeking to denigrate Biden’s White House bid, the agencies did not provide any assessment of Putin’s potential involvement.
“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’ This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement in August.
The US accused Putin in 2017 of directing all efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
“We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes,” US intelligence said in a statement following the 2016 election.
In his statement from August, Evanina also accused pro-Russian Ukrainian parliamentarian Andrii Derkach of “spreading claims about corruption” to undermine Biden’s candidacy.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN’s John King on “Newsroom” on Tuesday that the report serves as “confirmation” of what both Evanina and FBI Director Christopher Wray have said about Russia’s efforts to meddle in the election.
“So this is simply affirmation, confirmation of what has already been said both by Director Wray of the FBI and Bill Evanina, who is director of the National CounterIntelligence and Security Center, who is kind of the nominal spokesman for election interference on behalf of the director of national intelligence,” said Clapper, who served in the Obama administration.
Clapper, a CNN contributor, added that the report is “significant but not surprising,” adding: “Given Putin’s background – a trained career KGB officer – he has a very astute and sophisticated understanding of the tools that he can use to interfere with our election process and to sow discord and distrust, which he is doing fairly well.”
The Post reported that the CIA assessment details Derkach’s efforts to spread and boost anti-Biden information through lobbyists, Congress, and US news outlets. Though the document refers to Derkach interacting with a “prominent” person tied to President Donald Trump’s campaign, it does not identify the person, according to the Post.
Derkach has close ties to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who the Post reports is not named in the CIA assessment. Over the past year, Derkach has worked closely with Giuliani and right-wing outlets like One America News Network to peddle anti-Biden material, according to past CNN reporting and Derkach’s public statements.
The US Treasury sanctioned Derkach because of those efforts and labeled him an “active Russian agent.”
“Derkach and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement earlier this month.
Giuliani has acknowledged that he received documents from Derkach about Biden.
Asked earlier this month about the sanctions against Derkach, Giuliani told CNN via text, “Who cares.”
“I never put any of his information in my report to State, and met (Derkach) long after my investigation was over,” Giuliani told CNN last month, referring to a controversial packet of documents he gave to the US State Department last year as part of his efforts to dig up dirt on Biden.
Derkach recently dismissed the notion that he is a Russian agent, calling the allegations from the US government “absurd” and illogical during a freewheeling press conference in Ukraine that quickly devolved into a nonsensical spectacle.
The US intelligence community declined to comment on Derkach’s specific activities after he spoke out. But an official from the ODNI reiterated the agency’s public assessment from August that the Ukrainian lawmaker “is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.”
“We stand by our previous public statement on Mr. Derkach and note the Sept. 10 Treasury Department designation of Derkach for his efforts to influence the 2020 election,” the official told CNN recently.
Derkach has released and promoted alleged audiotapes of a 2016 conversation between Biden and then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Last month, Trump retweeted a post containing snippets of the audio and accusing Biden of improprieties, though there is no proof of wrongdoing on the tapes.
A spokesman for Biden’s campaign said Tuesday that the CIA assessment makes clear who Putin wants to win the election because “Donald Trump’s foreign policy has been a gift to the Kremlin.”
“And it is tragic that certain members of Congress are so overcome by the most corrosive form of partisanship imaginable that they have chosen to be accessories to foreign influence operations against the very sovereignty of the United States,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.
CNN’s Devan Cole, Alex Marquardt, Sarah Mucha, Jeremy Herb, Mike Warren and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.