Rubio: Top US political groups should expect Russian cyberattacks

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is warning that any major group involved in American politics should prepare for potential cyberattacks amid new scrutiny of Russian efforts to target a pair of conservative groups.

“Every entity in America involved in politics at a high level at this point should expect that they are a target of an influence campaign by Russia, potentially by China,” Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Tuesday.

“It’s a very low-cost way to inflict damage on your opponent … they can all afford to have high-level electronic intrusions that allow them to disseminate false information, drive narratives and cause chaos among us,” he added.

Rubio was weighing in on news that Microsoft had shut down six websites the company said were created by hackers connected to Russia’s military that were targeting conservative think tanks and the U.S. Senate. 

Microsoft said the websites had targeted the conservative think tanks the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute, as well as U.S. Senate domains that were “not specific to particular offices” or senators.

Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) raised doubt that Republicans and the Trump administration would change their handling of Russian interference following Microsoft’s revelation this week.

“I have a hard time believing it will change how the president will approach it — he’s continuing to deny, it and I don’t see any reason to suggest he’s going to change his unconvincing denials,” Kaine said.

Rubio argued that the Trump administration has imposed tough penalties on Russians.

“I understand people’s concern about the rhetoric and not recognizing that it was Russia” that interfered with the 2016 presidential election, Rubio said.

“But the reality of it is that this president has imposed more sanctions on Vladimir Putin [than] Obama ever did. … What needs to happen now is they need to know how much higher the price could be if they do it again,” he said. 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) emphasized that lawmakers should continue to put a focus on Russia’s election meddling. 

“There is no question whatsoever that Russia is involved in trying to create disunity in our country,”  Corker told reporters shortly after concluding the first of several hearings on U.S.-Russia relations. 

“[The Russians] are winning when we are having this conversation … this is a threat to our nations, our nation has become increasingly distrustful,” Corker said. “We’ve got to counter that.” 

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said senators will hear from the administration on Wednesday “to understand what it is that in fact [the Russians] are doing, but it doesn’t seem to me we have deterred Russian aggression.”

— Molly Hooper

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