Lawmakers clamor for Russia response

Lawmakers clamor for Russia response
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The Obama administration is shying away from blaming Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) despite mounting pressure from lawmakers.

Senior administration officials throughout the week appeared to deliver thinly veiled threats at Russia over the breach, but stopped short of calling the Kremlin the culprit.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are growing increasingly vocal in their calls for retaliation. 

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“I think the only thing [Russian President Vladimir Putin] respects is a strong response. The longer this goes on without the administration making attribution, then I think the longer we’re going to see these hacks continue,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Supreme Court takes up fight over Trump financial records Democrats approve two articles of impeachment against Trump in Judiciary vote MORE (Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, told reporters Thursday.

Digital forensics experts have reached a near-unanimous consensus that the theft of the DNC emails was the work of a well-known Russian intelligence group known as Fancy Bear. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials, speaking anonymously, have reported confidence that Russia is behind the attacks. 

Many have speculated that the attack was an attempt to interfere in the U.S. election and help Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE, the Republican nominee.

A host of administration officials appeared to inch closer to pointing the finger at Russia this week.

On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, who leads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, listed Russia as one of the four major actors involved in supporting hackers targeting the U.S.

Carlin noted that the U.S. has taken action against hackers from the other three states — North Korea, Iran and China.

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“The message is clear: You are not safe because you are doing it under another nation’s flag. We can figure out who did it ... and when we do, we’re committed to holding people accountable,” Carlin said. 

Attorney General Loretta Lynch delivered a similar message. 

“Whether you are a rogue hacker or a uniformed soldier, the shadowy corners of the internet will not provide respite for long,” she said.

And when FBI Director James B. Comey was asked why there was no visible response to Russian cyber threats, he said that the U.S. could respond to hackers outside of the public eye — clarifying quickly that he wasn’t speaking specifically about Russia.

Comey’s agency — which is spearheading the investigation into the DNC hack — is reportedly trying to gather enough evidence to allow the Department of Justice to indict the alleged Russian culprits, a strategy the administration has used in the past to combat Chinese hacking.

The White House on Thursday suggested that even if the FBI is able to make a definitive link to Russia, the public might never know what action the administration takes.

The FBI, press secretary Josh Earnest said, is “cognizant of the fact that as soon as they make a declaration like that, most people are going to understandably be interested in seeing that evidence. And some of that evidence may not be something that we want to show.”

Or, he said, “the United States may be in a position where we want to respond, but not announce it in advance, or maybe not announce it ever.” 

That answer may not satisfy lawmakers. 

“I think there’s ample public evidence of Russia hacking our institutions, there’s certainly ample evidence in Russia interfering in political affairs in other nations in Europe, and I think that the president ought to call them out on it,” Schiff said Thursday.

“There’s little reason for them to stop if they’re not even being called out on it.”

In the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee member Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections MORE (D-N.H.) this week pushed committee leadership to hold hearings on the reported efforts by Russia to interfere in the election.

The pressure is coming from the right as well as the left.

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Thursday that Russia is behind recent attempts to penetrate voter information databases in Arizona and Illinois and that Obama should “call out the Russians for it.”

“We can't let foreign adversaries attack and get away with it. I hope for bold denouncement and a plan to respond,” McCaul said at an Internet Security Association conference in Washington, D.C.

Onlookers suspect that the White House is likely still gathering evidence and weighing its options.

“I’ve talked to the administration about it and I don’t think a firm decision has been made,” Schiff said Thursday.

The decision about whether to publicly attribute the hack — and how to respond —is a complicated one.

The U.S. is engaged in a fragile cease-fire arrangement with the Russians in Syria, which some have suggested could make the White House cautious about assigning blame for the DNC hack. 

“This is a complex decision and typically things like this take a while. My instinct is that they are probably by necessity taking their time to parse through all these things,” noted Chris Finan, a former Obama administration cybersecurity adviser.