But that didn’t stop news media from reading between the lines and seeing the right-wing outlet.
NBC News said a passage in the 15-page report made public Tuesday linked Russian operatives to a documentary “that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020” and took it to mean OAN.
So did left-leaning Mother Jones, whose online headline was: “Russia Worked to Boost Trump in 2020 — With Help From Giuliani, Fox News, and OANN.”
On Jan. 21, OAN announced the debut of “The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder with guest host Michael Caputo.”
The network said: “With an impressive and long list of exclusive one-on-one interviews, Michael Caputo reports that America’s Ukraine problem didn’t start with a telephone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In fact, it started years before when America meddled in Ukraine’s elections, 130 people were assassinated – and Ukraine then interfered in our presidential elections.”
OAN founder Robert Herring didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence made several “key judgments.”
One said: “We assess that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.”
But greater public and media awareness of influence operations than in 2016 probably helped counter such efforts, the report said.
Two linked to election meddling were Russian influence agent Konstantin Kilimnik and Andriy Derkach, “a Ukrainian legislator who played a prominent role in Russia’s election influence activities,” the report said.
It continued: “Derkach, Kilimnik and their associates sought to use prominent U.S. persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to U.S. officials and audiences.”
Among other things, these Russian proxies made contact with established U.S. media figures and “helped produce a documentary that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020,” the report said.
Caputo was briefly a public affairs official in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump administration.
He also worked in the Reagan administration and helped the presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush in 1992, two years before he moved to Russia. Caputo returned to America in 2000.
Caputo says he “played a pivotal role in electing Boris Yeltsin to his second term as president of the Russian Federation.”
OAN noted that Caputo wrote a book titled: “The Ukraine Hoax: How Decades of Corruption in the Former Soviet Republic Led to Trump’s Phony Impeachment.”
Mother Jones contacted Caputo, who said he had not spoken to Derkach or Kilimnick for the OAN documentary and answered “no” when asked if he was aware of any Russian government involvement with it.
But the magazine added: “Caputo’s co-executive producer on the movie, Sergey Petrushin, is Russian, though Caputo said Petrushin, who he described as his “business partner and friend for 25 years” lives in Miami.”
In June 2020, The Atlantic magazine published a story titled “Is OAN the Leading Edge of Russian Misinformation?” in which the cable channel’s Chanel Rion said Derkach was one of the people giving her material for another Ukraine documentary.
The magazine quoted former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Steven Pifer as saying Russia would love to “somehow inject Ukraine back into American politics” and “There will be people on the American side who play into it — OAN is one.”
Herring Networks, parent of OAN, is appealing a federal judge’s decision dismissing a defamation suit against MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who said the Trump-backing network “really literally is paid Russian propaganda.”
The declassified report added heft to longstanding allegations that some of Trump’s top lieutenants were playing into Moscow’s hands by amplifying claims made against then-candidate Joe Biden by Russian-linked Ukrainian figures in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election. It also added new findings that Putin either oversaw or at least approved of the election meddling to benefit Trump.
Washington is expected to impose sanctions on Moscow as soon as next week because of the allegations, three sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The findings about Putin’s role are likely to receive particular attention given the report’s conclusions that Russia-backed figures such as Ukrainian parliamentarian Derkach enlisted unnamed U.S. political figures in their campaign to smear Biden and his son Hunter.
The report named Derkach, who met Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in 2019, as someone whose movements were tracked, if not directed, by Putin.
“Putin had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach,” the report said. “Other senior officials also participated in Russia’s election influence efforts — including senior national security and intelligence officials who we assess would not act without receiving at least Putin’s tacit approval.”
U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russia also interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Mueller found extensive contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump while president also faced questions about ties by his associates with Russia and Russia-linked figures in Ukraine. The U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump in 2019 — the first of two times — on charges arising from his request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens.
The U.S. intelligence report also found other foreign attempts to sway American voters in 2020 including a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” by Iran intended to undercut Trump. As president, Trump pulled the United States out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and imposed fresh sanctions.
Reuters contributed to this report.