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Senate panel backs intelligence community assessment of election meddling

Updated: 4:46 PM ET, Wed May 16, 2018

(CNN) - The Senate Intelligence Committee's leaders said Wednesday they believed that the intelligence community's 2017 assessment of election meddling was correct, breaking with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who questioned the conclusion that the Russians were trying to help President Donald Trump get elected.

"There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 election," Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said in a statement. "Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions."

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said that "after a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hilary Clinton."

The joint statement comes after former director of the National Security Agency Michael Rogers, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sat down with the committee in a closed hearing Wednesday morning about the 2017 assessment.

The bipartisan conclusion from the Senate Intelligence Committee leaders is a sharp break from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, who disputed the intelligence community's findings that Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to help Trump.

The House Republican report alleges there were "significant intelligence tradecraft failings" in that assessment from the intelligence community, which they argue "undermine confidence" in the conclusions about Putin's objectives in the 2016 election. The Republicans argued that the draft of the assessment on that point was "subjected to an unusually constrained review and coordination process."

Last week, Burr signaled his committee would break with the House Republicans. When asked about the House findings, he said: "Well, I'm not sure the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts."

"We may have different opinions," Burr said. "But whatever we propose, whatever we assess, we're going to have the facts to show for that."

Following Wednesday's statement, several top Republicans also voiced support for the intelligence community's findings. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said the assessment was "by and large well done."

"I think the President tends to conflate collusion and meddling, and fairly there is overwhelming evidence in meddling and no evidence in collusion," Cornyn said. "I think the ICA by and large was well done. I do think they dropped the ball with respect to crediting the Steele dossier -- I think it gave rise to a lot of rumors and gave rise to a lot of unverified information, which should not have been part of it."

"The IC did a good job in a very rapid time period pulling together the details," said Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The ICA wasn't comprehensive about everything. They had a very thin slice of what they were looking at. For what they did, in the time period they did it, it was accurate."

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, another Republican member of the panel, said, "I think the IC assessment was thorough, well-researched, and well done based on the information they had at the time."

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and a frequent defender of Trump's, declined to comment.

Later Wednesday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee stood by their finding.

Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican who ran the House's Russia investigation, told CNN he supports their conclusion "until I know any differently" and downplayed the difference as just a "narrow" one.

"We spent thousands of man hours at the CIA going through the documents," Conaway told CNN. "I'm confident in the people who did our work."

Rep. Will Hurd, a vulnerable Texas Republican who sits on the panel, told CNN, when asked if he stood by the findings, "You've seen our report -- yeah. The Senate is allowed to have its own opinion."

And Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said "absolutely" he stands by the report, saying there were "deficiencies" in the analytical tradecraft used by the agencies.

"There's only one person in the world who can answer that question: and that's Vladimir Putin," Stewart said when asked about the IC's assessment that Putin wanted to help Trump.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, encouraged GOP House members to accept the intelligence community's findings, following the Senate Intelligence statement.

"What I would tell Republicans: they could come after us in 2018 and they probably will. ... I have no reason to dispute the intelligence community findings."

Burr would not discuss the matter further in person, saying that the panel would soon issue a report on the matter.

"I'm going to let the report, when it comes out, speak for itself," Burr said.


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