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Declassified intel claims Hillary Clinton is behind Trump-Russia scandal, intel chief says

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 30, 2020

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe released a report on Tuesday with declassified 2016 information concluding that Russian intelligence found then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton intended to “stir up a scandal” tying then-candidate Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

“In late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained insight into Russian intelligence analysis alleging that U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russians’ hacking of the Democratic National Committee,” Ratcliffe wrote in a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Ratcliffe acknowledged, “The IC does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”

Ratcliffe has pushed back on the suggestion that his report contained Russian disinformation, writing, “To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the Intelligence Community. I’ll be briefing Congress on the sensitive sources and methods by which it was obtained in the coming days.”

Ratcliffe’s letter goes on to state that former CIA Director John Brennan’s handwritten notes indicate he briefed then-President Barack Obama and other intelligence officials on the intelligence report, “Including the ‘alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”

Ratcliffe’s letter also states that on Sept. 6, 2016, “U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral to FBI Director James Corney and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok regarding ‘U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s approval of a plan concerning U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server.'”

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At the time, Clinton was facing controversy over her use of a private email server to store sensitive government emails.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, disputed the credibility of the Russian intelligence and criticized Ratcliffe’s letter, saying, “It’s very disturbing to me that, 35 days before an election, the director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian [rumor intelligence].”

Politico reported the intelligence was previously known to Senate Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but according to two unnamed sources, they rejected the intelligence claims as having no factual basis.

Rachel Cohen, Warner’s spokeswoman, went as far as to tweet that the allegation raised by Ratcliffe was Russian disinformation.

“This is Russian disinformation. Laundered by the Director Of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is extraordinary,” Cohen tweeted.

The letter comes as U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr launched investigations into the origin of allegations of possible collusion between Trump and Russia. The allegations of a tie between Trump and Russia would go on to create the basis for Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year-long Special Counsel investigation, which ultimately established no collusion between Trump and Russia.

Graham, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he had questions about how the Obama-era intelligence community handled the information at the time it was discovered.

“This latest information provided by DNI Ratcliffe shows there may have been a double standard by the FBI regarding allegations against the Clinton campaign and Russia,” Graham said, according to Fox News. “Whether these allegations are accurate is not the question. The question is did the FBI investigate the allegations against Clinton like they did Trump?  If not, why not?  If so, what was the scope of the investigation?  If none, why was that?”

The Justice Department has returned other recent critical findings in its investigation of the initial Trump-Russia probe. Last week, Barr wrote Graham a letter noting that one of the primary for a dossier that alleged Trump had Russian ties, was under investigation for his own suspected ties with Russian intelligence services.

This article was updated to expand and clarify details of the Senate committee’s review of the intelligence.