Hope Hicks, Donald Trump’s longtime confidant, told special counsel Robert Mueller’s office that Trump’s Achilles’s heel is the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“Trump thought the fact that the intelligence community assessed the Russians had interfered in the 2016 election was his Achilles heel,” FBI investigators report that Hicks told them back in March 2018. “Even if it had no impact on the election, Trump thought that was what people would think. He thought the assessment took away from what he did.”
This revelation by Trump’s former White House communications director is included in the 295 pages of redacted FBI interview notes that were publicly released on Monday evening. The notes were released due to a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was brought by BuzzFeed.
The January of 2017 intelligence community’s assessment concluded, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election with the goal of undermining faith in the U.S. democratic process while hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Trump. Mueller’s July 2018 indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers laid out details about the various Russian cyber tactics, and his April 2019 report provided more information about the GRU units responsible, detailing how Russia stole Democratic emails, then provided them to WikiLeaks for dissemination.”
Bipartisan congressional reports shed light on Russia’s efforts — from state election system intrusion attempts to social media disinformation campaigns — in addition to Mueller concluding Russia interfered “in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”
Trump had attempted to cast doubt on the U.S.’s claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential elections. He disputed the findings during a July 2018 press conference that was held Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.
Trump has also repeatedly pushed a conspiracy theory about CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that first determined the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by Russia. Trump wrongly claimed that the company is owned by a Ukrainian company and that it hid a DNC server in Ukraine.
Trump’s Justice Department publicly defended the role CrowdStrike played, stating that the FBI was able to carry out its own investigation into Russian interference. Back in October, one official within the DOJ told the House Judiciary Committee that the department got the information “required for its investigation.” The official also noted that it is common for the DOJ to work with outside security vendors.
The DOJ stated that it “gathered evidence showing that GRU officers hacked the DNC systems as well as the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and email accounts of people working for the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, published hacked information pseudonymously, and transferred stolen data to Organization 1 [WikiLeaks].”