“Gang of 12” Receives Intel Briefings
The “Gang of 12”—Senate, House, and congressional intelligence committee leaders—receive briefings from the intelligence community about Russian interference in the election, at which point Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voices doubts about the intelligence presented.
The intelligence community first briefed the Senate’s “Gang of 12”—the majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate and the chair and ranking members of the two congressional intelligence committees—in September 2016. By that time, the intelligence community had reached the conclusion that the Russian government was actively seeking to interfere in the presidential election. Though the White House hoped to use the meeting jump-start a public response to Russia’s efforts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly expressed doubts about the veracity of the intelligence community’s conclusion, a response that led the administration to demur lest the revelations be politicized and treated as the Obama administration merely “taking sides” in the election.
The investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election, and the attempts by the intelligence community to inform the public about this threat, have taken many forms. The intelligence community first made public its assessment that the Russian government was behind the hacks on October 7, 2016. On that day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a unanimous assessment on behalf of the intelligence community formally accusing the Russian government of stealing and leaking emails from the DNC and other U.S. political organizations in an effort “to interfere with the U.S. election process.” However, the assessment received little attention, as that afternoon, The Washington Post posted the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasts about groping women and WikiLeaks began publishing stolen emails from the inbox of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
On December 29, 2016, the intelligence community released more information on Russia’s hacking campaign. In a report entitled “GRIZZLY STEPPE—Russian Malicious Cyber Activity,” the FBI and DHS provided technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure the Russian civilian and military intelligence services had used to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political, and private-sector entities.
The report was soon followed by another, this one reflecting the unanimous consensus of the intelligence community, on January 6, 2017. This report not only spells out additional details of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election, but also is the first to publicly accuse the Kremlin of doing so with the explicit intent of ensuring Trump’s victory.
On January 19, 2017, the day before Trump’s inauguration, The New York Times reported that the intelligence community had broadened its investigation into interference in the election. According to The New York Times, intelligence agencies were no longer just investigating Russian hacking but were also looking at Russian communications and financial statements as part of an ongoing investigation into Trump, Trump associates such as Michael Flynn, and Russian officials.
In March 2018, the House Intelligence Committee ended its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Committee openly challenged the Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russian operatives worked to ensure Trump’s victory, stating that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives and that Russian operatives were not trying to help Trump during the election.
In July of 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee published its review of the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, which concluded that Russia had not only interfered in the 2016 election, but had done so to assist Trump’s campaign. In their review, they dissent from the House Committee’s judgement, instead arguing that “the conclusions of the [Intelligence Community Assessment] are sound,” and that “collection and analysis subsequent to the [Assessment]’s publication continue to reinforce its assessments.”