Trump team challenges intel on Russian election influence

- Donald Trump's presidential transition team on Saturday challenged the veracity of U.S. intelligence assessments concluding that Russia was trying to tip the November election to the Republican.

A senior U.S. official said the CIA has determined with "high confidence" that Moscow's interference in the presidential race was intended to help Trump. The assessment is based in part on evidence that Russian actors had hacked Republicans as well as Democrats but were only releasing information harmful to Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton, according to the official.

The official was not authorized to discuss the private intelligence assessment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Trump's transition team questioned both the quality of the intelligence community's information and its motivations. In a statement late Friday, the transition team said the officials making the assessment are "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

On Saturday, spokesman Sean Spicer said there were "people within these agencies who are upset with the outcome of the election."

Spicer also denied a report in The New York Times that Republican National Committee systems had been breached during the election. He told CNN the party committee has worked with intelligence agencies that have told it "with certainty that we haven't been hacked."

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would press for a congressional investigation in the new year. "That any country could be meddling in our elections should shake both political parties to their core," he said. "It's imperative that our intelligence community turns over any relevant information so that Congress can conduct a full investigation."

There was no immediate official response from Moscow. But Oleg Morozov, a member of the foreign relations committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, dismissed the claim of Russian interference as "silliness and paranoia," according to the RIA Novosti news agency. Morozov described the allegations as an attempt to force the next administration to stick to Obama's anti-Russian course.

The investigation ordered by Obama will be a "deep dive" into a possible pattern of increased "malicious cyber activity" timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign. It will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government's response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.

The president ordered up the report earlier in the week asked that it be completed before he leaves office next month, Schultz said.

"The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously," he said. "We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections."

The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations.

In the months leading up to the election, email accounts of Democratic Party officials and a top Hillary Clinton campaign aide were breached, emails leaked and embarrassing and private emails posted online. Many Democrats believe the hackings benefited Trump's bid.

Schultz said the president sought the probe as a way of improving U.S. defense against cyberattacks and was not intending to question the legitimacy of Trump's victory.

"This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election," Schultz said.

Obama's move comes as Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Obama to declassify more information about Russia's role, fearing that Trump, who has promised a warmer relationship with Moscow, may not prioritize the issue.

Given Trump's statements, "there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee. If the administration doesn't respond "forcefully" to such actions, "we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future," he said.

The White House said it would make portions of the report public and would brief lawmakers and relevant state officials on the findings.

It emphasized the report would not focus solely on Russian operations or hacks involving Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Democratic National Committee accounts. Schultz stressed officials would be reviewing incidents going back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when the campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Obama were breached by hackers.

Intelligence officials have said Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyberattacks four years later.

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