WASHINGTON – President Vladimir Putin of Russia is most likely continuing to approve and direct interference operations aimed at raising President Donald Trump’s re-election chances, a recent CIA analysis concluded, a signal that intelligence agencies continue to back their assessment of Russian activities despite the president’s attacks.
The assessment was disseminated in support of sanctions imposed this month on Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who has spread information critical of former Vice President Joe Biden. It is consistent with intelligence officials’ warning to lawmakers in January that Russia was interfering on Trump’s behalf, a briefing that outraged Republicans and eventually helped oust Joseph Maguire from his post as acting director of national intelligence.
The CIA has moderate confidence in its analysis, a lower degree of certainty than its 2016 assessment of Putin’s preferences, in part because the intelligence community appears to lack intercepted communications or other direct evidence confirming his direction of Derkach’s efforts. Putin, a former intelligence agent, is careful not to use electronic devices.
According to people familiar with the matter, the new analysis was published before the sanctions in the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, a classified document that circulates to members of Congress and the Trump administration.
Putin’s direction, national security officials have said, should be of little surprise. Russia has become an authoritarian country under him, and little in its foreign affairs occurs without his knowledge or blessing, U.S. officials have repeatedly said.
Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics have continued steadily since 2016, even if the volume of disinformation has ebbed and flowed. But the CIA’s lower level of confidence in the new assessment allows Trump and his allies to treat the allegations of Putin’s involvement as unproven.
For years, many Republicans have taken issue with the CIA analysis of Russian interference. John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, who was an outspoken supporter of Trump while a member of Congress, and other Republicans have argued that Putin’s goal is to sow chaos, not to favor one candidate over another.
And Trump himself remains hostile to arguments that Russia is intervening to support him. After the FBI director, Christopher Wray, testified last week that Russia was trying to sow discord in the United States and “denigrate Vice President Biden,” Trump chastised him publicly, saying he should have also emphasized China’s election interference efforts.
U.S. intelligence officials say that while China opposes Trump’s re-election, Beijing has not mounted significant covert efforts to hamper the president’s campaign.
But intelligence officials said there is little doubt that Putin is broadly orchestrating Russian campaigns and has continued to allow his intelligence operatives to try to influence U.S. politics.
William R. Evanina, the intelligence official in charge of election interference briefings, is set to brief members of Congress’ intelligence committees this week.