By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A U.S. Senate committee says there is a consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election but is still investigating whether there was any collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign team.
Senator Richard Burr (Republican-North Carolina), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in Washington on October 4 that the committee “continues to look into all evidence to see if there was any evidence of collusion…but we are not there yet.”
Burr said the committee had conducted more than 100 interviews — including numerous members of the administrations of Trump and former President Barack Obama — and reviewed more than 100,000 documents in their investigation.
He said they are scheduled to interview 25 more people and hope to finish the investigation this year.
Senator Mark Warner (Democrat-Virginia), the deputy chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said there is a “consensus” that the Russians “hacked into [U.S.] political files” and released information in an effort “to sway the election.”
Burr said that, although Russia had meddled in the election, he can say “certifiably” that no vote totals were altered as a result.
Warner said the effort by the Russians to influence the presidential election included attempts to “test the vulnerabilities” of the election systems in 21 states by “trying to open the door.”
Trying To Create ‘Chaos’
The committee, Burr said, has determined that the Russian involvement in buying ads on social media was “indiscriminate” and did not benefit “one side of the ideological spectrum or the other.”
He added that the ads “tried to create chaos [and] I would say they have been pretty darn successful.”
Burr said many social-media companies did not take seriously the threat by Russia to influence the democratic process ahead of the elections, and added that officials from Google, Twitter, and Facebook will appear in a public hearing “so that Americans can hear how they are going to protect [the election process in the future] and know whether an ad was generated by a foreign entity.”
Facebook said on October 2 that it will hire more than 1,000 people to help prevent deceptive ads from appearing on the social-media site and influencing future elections.
The same day it gave to the Senate Intelligence Committee more than 3,000 ads that it said likely operated out of Russia and pushed divisive issues during the campaign.
Burr said his committee will not release the ads but encouraged Facebook to do so.
“At the end of the day it’s important for the American people to see these ads,” said Warner.
‘Committed And Clever’
Warner also said that the Russian intelligence service activities did not end with the U.S. presidential election on November 8 and that similar acts continued ahead of political elections in Montenegro, Belgium, France, and Germany.
Burr said the Russian intelligence service is “committed and clever.”
Burr also commented on the committee’s investigation of memos written by former FBI Director James Comey after various meetings with Trump that critics said showed obstruction of justice on the part of the president, who fired Comey amid an FBI investigation of collusion by Trump.
Burr said that investigation by his committee had reached “a logical end.”
He added that any further questions about Comey’s firing should be directed to Robert Mueller, who is heading a special investigation into Russian interference in the elections and any possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Burr said his committee had also “hit a wall” on the credibility of the “Steele dossier” — a private intelligence report written by former British spy Christopher Steele, who Burr said has refused to meet with the committee.
The dossier contains unproven allegations of misconduct by Trump and his campaign as well as collusion between it and the Russian government ahead of the U.S. election.
The Steele report has been denounced by Trump as “phony.”
Burr acknowledged that the investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election was taking a long time but said it was important to “get it right.”
He said that the “facts of Russia’s involvement in the election” must be made public before the political campaigns begin for the November 2018 U.S. general elections.
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