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U.S. Spy Chief: Russia Saw Trump As 'Fringe Candidate'

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

WASHINGTON -- The top U.S. intelligence official says Russia initially doubted Republican Donald Trump could defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, believing that he was a "fringe candidate."

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made the assertion at a January 10 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The hearing was the second by a Senate committee focusing on the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia carried out a campaign -- including cyberattacks -- aimed at influencing the election and helping Trump win.

Clapper said that in "July or August" Russian government officials believed that Clinton, a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin, would win the November 8 election.

"They thought [Trump] was a fringe candidate," Clapper told lawmakers.

The hearing follows last week's partial release of a U.S. intelligence report accusing Putin of ordering an influence campaign that aimed to help Trump win.

That campaign, U.S. intelligence officials say, included the theft of Democratic party e-mails that are widely seen to have damaged Clinton's campaign after they were published by WikiLeaks and others.

The Kremlin denies any involvement, and Trump has repeatedly downplayed Russia's alleged role in the hacking campaign.

Trump has conceded that Moscow may have been behind the hacks but insists the intrusions had no influence on the outcome of the election.

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