By Scott Malone
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) - Russia succeeded in its goals of sowing discord in U.S. politics by meddling in the 2016 presidential election, which will likely inspire similar future efforts, two top former U.S. voices on intelligence said on Tuesday.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers agreed at a panel at Harvard University that Russia likely believed it had achieved its goals and could attempt to repeat its performance in elections in other countries.
"Their purpose was to sew discontent and mistrust in our elections they wanted us to be at each others' throat when it was over," Rogers said at the panel at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "It's influencing, I would say, legislative process today. That's wildly successful."
Congressional committees have been investigating the issue since U.S. intelligence agencies in January concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered hacking of Democratic political groups to sway the election toward Republican Donald Trump. Moscow has denied any such meddling and Trump has been dismissive of the intelligence suggesting Russian involvement.
Clapper said that Russia had long sought to influence U.S. voter behaviour but discovered it could be far more effective at a lower cost by using social media to spread misinformation.
"This is the most assertive, most aggressive and most directly impactful of any engagement that they have had in our elections," Clapper said at the event, in Cambridge, Massachusetts just outside Boston. "They have to regard what they did as a huge success. They've been doing it in France and they'll do it in Germany."
Russia has also denied attempting to influence France's presidential election.
Rogers maintained that he did not believe that Russia had specifically attempted to boost Trump's chances of victory.
"They saw the same polls that we did," Rogers said. "Some notion that the Russians knew that Trump had an opportunity to win this thing more than U.S. public pollsters thought, I find ridiculous."
The congressional probe on whether Russia attempted to influence the election in favour is not the only investigation into relations between Moscow and the Trump administration. The Pentagon has also launched an investigation into whether Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, accepted money from foreign entities without the required approval.
Clapper is set to testify to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter next week.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)