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The US Senate intelligence committee has concluded that Russia undertook an “unprecedented” effort to interfere in the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.
Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the committee, said: “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
The committee did not comment on whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, an issue special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating alongside questions about potential obstruction of justice.
The committee’s finding confirmed the assessment of the US intelligence community. Evaluating the work of the intelligence community is part of the Senate committee’s broader inquiry into Russian election interference, which is separate from the Mueller probe.
Mr Warner said: “While our committee’s investigation remains ongoing, one thing is already abundantly clear — we have to do a better job in the future if we want to protect our elections from foreign interference.”
The conclusion came as investigators released transcripts showing that Donald Trump Jr, the president’s son, told them he did not think it was a problem to accept a 2016 meeting he was informed was a Kremlin-linked effort to discredit Hillary Clinton.
According to more than 2,500 pages of testimony and documents the Senate judiciary committee released on Wednesday, Mr Trump Jr said he thought he “should listen” to the Russian group promising damaging information on Mrs Clinton ahead of the presidential election.
The Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin connected lawyer is under scrutiny by Senate investigators and Mr Mueller.
Mr Trump Jr told investigators: “To the extent that they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of any presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out.”
The release of documents did not include any bombshells, but provides insights into what key players in the president’s orbit have told investigators about the meeting.
The meeting participants told investigators it turned out to be a disappointment for the Trump team.
Rob Goldstone, a British music promoter who helped set it up, said: “I don’t know what would be deemed damaging, but I didn’t hear anything that I would deem to be damaging. And I didn‘t see anybody react in a way that I believed people would react if they heard damaging information.”
Mr Goldstone testified that his client Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star and developer, had urged him to set up the meeting between Mr Trump Jr and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer.
Mr Trump Jr said he was initially sceptical of Mr Goldstone’s outreach and “as it later turned out, my scepticism was justified”.
The Russian participants in the meeting wanted to talk about the issue of US adoptions of Russian children — something that had been banned by Russia in retaliation for asset freezes imposed by the US on certain Russian officials.
Mr Trump Jr said he had no reason to believe that the Russian government supported his father’s campaign for president until he received an email from Mr Goldstone that described the promised information on Mrs Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.
In addition to Mr Trump’s son, the meeting was also attended by Paul Manafort, then manager of the Trump campaign, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.