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Former CIA Director John Brennan personally edited a crucial section of the intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and assigned a political ally to take a lead role in writing it after career analysts disputed Brennan's take that Russian leader Vladimir Putin intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump clinch the White House, according to two senior U.S. intelligence officials who have seen materials detailing Brennan’s role in drafting the document.
The explosive conclusion Brennan inserted into the report was used to help justify continuing the Trump-Russia “collusion” investigation, which had been launched by the FBI in 2016. It was picked up after the election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who in the end found no proof that Trump or his campaign conspired with Moscow.
The Obama administration publicly released a de version of the report — known as the "Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent Elections (ICA)” — just two weeks before Trump took office, casting a cloud of suspicion over his presidency. Democrats and national media have cited the report to suggest Russia influenced the 2016 outcome and warn that Putin is likely meddling again to reelect Trump.
The ICA is a key focus of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s ongoing investigation into the origins of the “collusion” probe. He wants to know if the intelligence findings were juiced for political purposes.
RealClearInvestigations has learned that one of the CIA operatives who helped Brennan draft the ICA, Andrea Kendall-Taylor, financially supported Hillary Clinton during the campaign and is a close colleague of Eric Ciaramella, identified last year by RCI as the Democratic national security “whistleblower" whose complaint led to Trump’s impeachment, ending in Senate acquittal in January.
The two officials said Brennan, who openly supported Clinton during the campaign, excluded conflicting evidence about Putin’s motives from the report, despite objections from some intelligence analysts who argued Putin counted on Clinton winning the election and viewed Trump as a “wild card.”
The dissenting analysts found that Moscow preferred Clinton because it judged she would work with its leaders, whereas it worried Trump would be too unpredictable. As secretary of state, Clinton tried to “reset” relations with Moscow to move them to a more positive and cooperative stage, while Trump campaigned on expanding the U.S. military, which Moscow perceived as a threat.
These same analysts argued the Kremlin was generally trying to sow discord and disrupt the American democratic process during the 2016 election cycle. They also noted that Russia tried to interfere in the 2008 and 2012 races, many years before Trump threw his hat in the ring.
“They complained Brennan took a thesis [that Putin supported Trump] and decided he was going to ignore dissenting data and exaggerate the importance of that conclusion, even though they said it didn’t have any real substance behind it,” said a senior U.S intelligence official who participated in a 2018 review of the spycraft behind the assessment, which President Obama ordered after the 2016 election.
He elaborated that the analysts said they also came under political pressure to back Brennan’s judgment that Putin personally ordered "active measures” against the Clinton campaign to throw the election to Trump, even though the underlying intelligence was “weak."
The review, conducted by the House Intelligence Committee, culminated in a lengthy report that was and locked in a Capitol basement safe soon after Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff took control of the committee in January 2019.
The official said the committee spent more than 1,200 hours reviewing the ICA and interviewing analysts involved in crafting it, including the chief of Brennan’s so-called “fusion cell,” which was the interagency analytical group Obama's top spook stood up to look into Russian influence operations during the 2016 election.
Durham is said to be using the long-hidden report, which runs 50-plus pages, as a road map in his investigation of whether the Obama administration politicized intelligence while targeting the Trump campaign and presidential transition in an unprecedented investigation involving wiretapping and other secret surveillance.
The special prosecutor recently interviewed Brennan for several hours at CIA headquarters after obtaining his emails, call logs and other documents from the agency. Durham has also quizzed analysts and supervisors who worked on the ICA.
A spokesman for Brennan said that, according to Durham, he is not the target of a criminal investigation and “only a witness to events that are under review.” Durham’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The senior intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said former senior CIA political analyst Kendall-Taylor was a key member of the team that worked on the ICA. A Brennan protégé, she donated hundreds of dollars to Clinton’s 2016 campaign, federal records show. In June, she gave $250 to the Biden Victory Fund.
Kendall-Taylor and Ciaramella entered the CIA as junior analysts around the same time and worked the Russia beat together at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. From 2015 to 2018, Kendall-Taylor was detailed to the National Intelligence Council, where she was deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia. Ciaramella succeeded her in that position at NIC, a unit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that oversees the CIA and the other intelligence agencies.
It’s not clear if Ciaramella also played a role in the drafting of the January 2017 assessment. He was working in the White House as a CIA detailee at the time. The CIA declined comment.
Kendall-Taylor did not respond to requests for comment, but she recently defended the ICA as a national security expert in a CBS “60 Minutes” interview on Russia’s election activities, arguing it was a slam-dunk case “based on a large body of evidence that demonstrated not only what Russia was doing, but also its intent. And it's based on a number of different sources, collected human intelligence, technical intelligence.”
But the secret congressional review details how the ICA, which was hastily put together over 30 days at the direction of Obama intelligence czar James Clapper, did not follow longstanding rules for crafting such assessments. It was not farmed out to other key intelligence agencies for their input, and did not include an annex for dissent, among other extraordinary departures from past tradecraft.