Intel leaders express regret over Russian hacking response

FBI director James Comey said Monday that he regretted not being more forceful in notifying the Democratic party about the threat of Russian hackers during the 2016 election.

Though the FBI did notify the Democratic National Committee that it faced a nation-level hacking threat as far back as September 2015, agents did so only by leaving messages at the IT help desk. The IT contractor told the New York Times that it seemed like a prank call. 

At the hearing, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) asked Comey if he would do things differently. Comey replied, “We would have sent up a much larger flare, we’d have kept banging and banging on the door.”

“We made extensive efforts to notify, but knowing what I know now, I might have walked over there myself.”

The hearing did not contain much new information about the data breaches at the Democratic National Committee and other political targets. But it did confirm many of the broad details about the hack that had been reported. 

{mosads}Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers reaffirmed their belief in a now familiar narrative: The Russian government, eager to elect President Trump over Hillary Clinton and discredit the U.S. election process, leaked information taken from breached email accounts belong to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. 

Though Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating the attacks, he would not discuss whether it was specifically investigating any member of the Trump administration for any kind of collusion. 

That didn’t stop Democrats from bringing up a litany of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, including one-time campaign chief Paul Manafort’s business work with a pro-Moscow Ukrainian politician, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn payment from Russian state run television and Trump’s own sale of a Florida property to a Russian businessman at more than 100 percent profit. 

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill) suggested that Trump may well have been an unwitting accomplice in the Russian hacking campaign. 

While Democrats focused their efforts in the hearing on the hacking and possible Trump connections — Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) went as far as to say that she thought the attack could qualify as an act of war — Republicans focused on the leak investigation and the intelligence community’s consensus opinion that the Russians hoped to put Trump in office, rather than merely undermine Hillary Clinton. 

Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said that, having read the classified report on the attack, he didn’t think that Russia specifically wanted to help Trump.

“I think a reasonable person could say what I’ve said here today, that there is another element to this,” he said. 

The FBI and CIA determined with “high confidence” that one goal of the hacking was to get Trump elected in their non-classified report. The NSA had “medium confidence.” It was the only point in the report that any of the three agencies did not have “high confidence.”

At the hearing, the intelligence heads denied Donald Trump’s repeated claim that he had been wiretapped and committed to help find the leakers. 

Comey announced that the investigation had run since July, but he had only recently briefed congress, a shift from the FBI’s informal policy of quarterly meetings on such matters. 

“If the open investigation began in July and the briefing on congressional leadership only occurred recently, why was there no notification prior to the last month?” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked. 

“I think our decision was it was a matter of such sensitivity that we wouldn’t include it in the quarterly briefings,” Comey replied, saying that decision was made from the head of the counterintelligence committee. 

Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said that he wouldn’t read too far into the difference in focus between the Republicans and the Democrats.

“The fact that someone had a line of questions about leaks does not mean they might not be interested in all aspects of Russia, and vice versa,” he said.

Tags Chris Stewart Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Trey Gowdy

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