Thursday, April 25, 2019

Mueller Report Mischaracterizes Intelligence Assessment On Russian Interference

The Mueller report rewards close reading. After an initial quick read through I’ve been making my way slowly through selected portions, most recently focusing on the Obstruction section and the events from early January 2017 until Robert Mueller’s appointment on Special Counsel on May 17, 2017 (and about which I'll be writing more in a few days).

I’d read the publicly available portions of the Intelligence Community assessment on Russian interference during the 2016 election, released on January 6, 2017, and wrote a post on it in February 2017.   When reading the Mueller report’s characterization of it something struck me as wrong which was confirmed upon a rereading of the 2017 document. Not surprisingly, the mischaracterizations all help reinforce the desired Democratic narrative regarding the election.

For purposes of the analysis below I take at face value the assertions made in the intelligence assessment though questions have been raised regarding its overall validity, as well as to whether DNI Clapper used an unusual process designed to "stack the deck" in selecting analysts who worked on the document – for now we’ll ignore those issues.

At page 234 the Mueller report states:
Following the briefing [of President-elect Trump on January 6], the intelligence community released the public version of its assessment, which concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the election through a variety of means with the goal of harming Clinton’s electability. The assessment further concluded with high confidence that Putin and the Russian government had developed a clear preference for Trump.
We have a simple story here – Putin preferred Trump, worked to assure his election, and the “intelligence community” concluded this with “high confidence”.

However, the actual conclusions of the Intelligence Assessment were more nuanced:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.
Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.
The 2017 report states that Russia “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible” but also that when it appeared Clinton would win the election, “the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency“. The language implies that there was an early period when Russia was trying to help Trump win, followed by a switch when the Kremlin thought Clinton would win. Unfortunately the report does not provide an assessment of when this switch occurred and why. Since Trump trailed consistently in all polls from the time he clinched the Republican nomination through election day, on what basis did the Kremlin make a different assessment at some point? When did the Kremlin not think Clinton was likely to win the election? In other words, during which periods was the Kremlin trying to help Trump win, as opposed to damaging a future Clinton presidency?

By omitting the Intelligence Community assessment that at some point the Kremlin assessed that Clinton would win and changed its objectives, the Mueller report contributes to the preferred Democratic narrative that the Kremlin caused Clinton to lose.

Moreover by reporting the 2017 assessment reached its conclusions with “strong confidence”, the Mueller report again mischaracterizes. Despite continued media reports that 17 intelligence agencies were involved in the assessment, the report released by DNI Clapper relies on analysis by only three – FBI, CIA, and NSA.  The 2017 report actually states its conclusions were reached with a high degree of confidence by the FBI and CIA, while the NSA’s were made with only a moderate degree of confidence. The NSA is the only one of the three with access to signals intelligence but there is no explanation of why the agencies reached their conclusions with different levels of confidence.

The 2017 assessment also provides useful context that is missing in the Mueller Report. It cites prior Russian and Soviet efforts to influence American presidential elections, though it also concludes the Kremlin took this to an unprecedented level in 2016.

The assessment also states that, through RT Americas TV, the Kremlin waged two propaganda campaigns during the second Obama Administration. The first, in support of Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement that also drew support from a diverse array of American politicians including President Obama, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and David Duke. The second, in support of the anti-fracking movement, with a goal of damaging energy development in the United States.

And there is one final mystery, not addressed in either the 2017 Intelligence Assessment or the Mueller Report. Why, if the Kremlin had such a strong preference for Donald Trump, was it feeding damaging information about Trump to the Clinton Campaign via Christopher Steele’s operatives? It’s an obvious question for anyone trying to look objectively at the 2016 election. The studied avoidance of this question, particularly in the Mueller Report, is yet another signal of something terribly wrong with the Special Counsel's investigation.

1 comment:

  1. Hinderaker at PowerLine also asks some great questions:

    I'm glad there are such smart people as yourself reading the report with such a close eye and logical questions. Thank you!