Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials had sought to influence the 2020 US election by “denigrating” Joe Biden with “misleading or unsubstantiated allegations” pushed through people close to Donald Trump, the US intelligence community said in a declassified report on Tuesday.
The intelligence report does not name any of these people, but Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney of former president Trump, may have been among them, according to news reports.
He had had contacts with Russian agents during the time he pursued the attempt to implicate then presidential candidate Joe Biden in an unproven corruption scandal involving his son Hunter Biden’s business connections with a Ukrainian company.
The intelligence report, which is the first about the November election, also says the Russian operation was supportive of then president Trump, but unlike in 2016, “we did not see persistent Russian cyber efforts to gain access to the election infrastructure”.
Iran also conducted a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” intended to “undercut” then president Trump, but it did not seek to directly promote his rivals, the report says.
China, on the other hand, sat it out. It considered but did not deploy influence efforts because, the intelligence community says in the report, it “did not view either election outcome being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling”. It is contrary to the Trump administration’s claims of China’s involvement in election meddling at the time.
The Russian influence operation was pervasive, in a throwback to the 2016 election meddling that was confirmed by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“We assess that President Putin and the Russian state authorised and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US president election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former president Trump, undermining public confidence in the election process, and exacerbating sociopolitical division in the US,” says the report by the National Intelligence Council.
The Russian influence operation was built around a central narrative, which the report says began taking shape back in 2014 during the Obama administration’s second term. It was basically an attempt to allege corrupt ties between Biden and his family with Ukraine. Russian intelligence banked on Ukrainian proxies to build this fiction, giving themselves room for deniability.
They pushed misleading and unsubstantiated allegations against Biden through, the report says, “US media organisations, US officials and US individuals, some of whom were close to former president Trump and his administration”.
The US intelligence report does not name the media organisation or officials or those close to Trump, but it does identify some non-Americans who played key roles in the operations: Andriy (also spelt Andrii) Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator with links with Russia’s officials and intelligence services, and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian “influence agent”.
The report says Putin had “purview over” the activities of Derkach, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration in September 2020 as a “Russian agent” and was described as “directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 US presidential election”.
Giuliani, the former US president’s personal attorney, met Derkach several times in an attempt to obtain what he believed would be material implicating Biden in a corruption case linked to Ukraine.