Thursday, January 5, 2017

Obama, US Senate Committees Set for Briefings on Russian Interference in Election

Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 U.S. election will be the subject of two U.S. Senate hearings Thursday, as well as a briefing for President Barack Obama.

The president ordered the intelligence community to review potential foreign interference dating back to the 2008 election that first brought him to the White House. A U.S. official confirmed to VOA that Obama will hear the results of the probe Thursday, and that President-elect Donald Trump will get the same briefing Friday.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have both concluded that the Russian government was behind the 2016 hacking and intentionally divulged the documents via WikiLeaks to disrupt the election.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is to hear testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers, and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre.

Committee chairman Senator John McCain on Wednesday called the Russian interference “an act of war.”

“If you try to destroy the fundamentals of democracy, then you have destroyed a nation,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And by the way, there are various gradients of acts of war. I’m not saying it’s an atomic attack. I’m just saying that when you attack a nation’s fundamental structure, which they are doing, then it’s an act of war.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s closed-door hearing will feature Homeland Security cybersecurity official Danny Toler and State Department officials Victoria Nuland and Gentry Smith.

Obama sanctions

Obama responded to Russia last week with a set of sanctions targeting the country’s leading spy agencies and the expulsion of 35 “intelligence operatives.”

Reuters reported Wednesday that according to several U.S. officials, the Obama administration received intelligence after the November 8 election that it considered to be conclusive evidence Russia gave information from the hacks on the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks through a third party. The officials said that information played a role in the president’s actions against Russia.

Trump doubts

Trump has repeatedly expressed doubt that Russia meddled in the vote.

In a series of tweets starting late Tuesday, Trump taunted the CIA, FBI and other agencies, suggesting they still don’t have proof that Russia penetrated Democratic party computers and gave the documents to WikiLeaks.

“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” Trump said.

And then early Wednesday, after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared on Fox News denying the Russian government gave WikiLeaks stolen Democratic documents, Trump followed up: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless?”

Trump was referring to thousands of emails and documents that hackers took from the computers of the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, which were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks leading up to the election.

CIA chief urges restraint

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump critic, sharply questioned the president-elect’s reliance on Assange.

“Assange has a record of undermining the United States,” Graham said on Twitter. “I don’t believe any American should give a whole lot of credibility to anything Julian Assange says.”

Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan told the Public Broadcasting Service, “I would suggest to individuals that have not yet seen the report, who have not yet been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.”

The VOA’s Michael Bowman contributed to this story.

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