Capitol Hill Reacts to #Russianhacking Assessment

If you want to understand why this issue is going nowhere fast, read on.

If you want to understand why this issue is going nowhere fast, read on.

Yesterday, I released my own analytical assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s abbreviated, declassified report on the Russian government’s (at least somewhat successful) attempt to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Back in December, I had publicly stated that prior to the Electoral College vote, at least some of the underlying intelligence should be made public in order (to the extent possible) give the electors and the American public a level of confidence that the Intelligence Community’s (IC) conclusions about Russian malfeasance in our electoral process were sound.

No such declassification took place, but Obama’s decision to have the IC produce a larger assessment provided a second opportunity to make such information public. But instead of putting forward the best possible case by declassifying the least-sensitive intelligence supporting the assessment, the Administration elected not to do so. In some of the reactions coming out of Captiol Hill in the wake of the declassified assessment’s release, we see senior House and Senate leaders teasing the public about the more sensitive, and allegedly corroborative, intelligence being held back.

In her press release on the IC report, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi stated:

As stunning as this report is in its revelations, I wish the American people could have access to more details. The American people have a right to know what a foreign power did to disrupt our election, regardless of the election’s outcome.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer’s statement conveyed a certitude about the conclusions not entirely supported by the declassified version:

Donald Trump has claimed that it could have been any of a number of nations or even a rogue individual who engaged in these cyberattacks. The evidence, however, makes Russian responsibility undeniable.

House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff of California also offered an essentially “slam dunk” endorsement of the report, despite the failure to make any actual underlying raw intelligence public to support it:

The report makes it clear that the Russian intervention was directed by Putin himself, and was designed not only to sow discord in the United States, but was also motivated by the desire to help Donald Trump’s election chances by discrediting Secretary Hillary Clinton. These conclusions are well-supported by the evidence and the report should put to rest any uncertainty as to Russian responsibility for this unprecedented interference in our internal affairs.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan essentially took a pass on the substance of the report and offered a defense of the legitimacy of Trump’s election:

Russia has a track record of working against our interests, and they clearly tried to meddle in our political system. I strongly condemn any outside interference in our elections, which we must work to prevent moving forward.
We must also be clear that there is no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process. We cannot allow partisans to exploit this report in an attempt to delegitimize the president-elect’s victory. Donald Trump won this election fair and square because he heard the voices of Americans who felt forgotten.

Ryan’s statement was irresponsible for a man who is third in line of succession.

As of this morning (January 7, 2017), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California posted no comment to his official website about the IC Assessment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California — who have previously complained about being stiff-armed for a briefing on #Russianhacking by the CIA — also issued a substance-free, partisan statement in response to the IC report’s release:

The report details a long-running, coordinated campaign of cyber-attacks by Russia on U.S. targets. The House Intelligence Committee has been warning the Obama administration for years about the need for stronger measures against Russia to counter these kinds of attacks, but our warnings largely fell on deaf ears. Russia’s actions show, inescapably, that failing to confront hostile actors invites further attacks. Although it’s too late for President Obama to adopt strong policies to deter Russian aggression, I hope the next administration will quickly do so.

As of this morning (January 7, 2017), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had posted nothing to his official website or Twitter account about the IC report.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina issued a tepid, cryptic statement in response to the IC report:

The Intelligence Community’s report on Russian activities and intentions in recent US elections highlights for the American people the direct and aggressive covert influence campaign conducted against our nation. The Committee will continue to compile the facts surrounding Russia’s active measures as part of our directed investigation by Leader McConnell. This is a troubling chapter in an ongoing story, and I expect that out our nation’s leaders will counter these activities appropriately.

His Democratic counterpart, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, offered a slightly longer response that was equally short on substance, except for one point:

Today’s report is well in line with previous assessments from the intelligence community that Russian officials at the highest levels engaged in an unprecedented level of interference in our elections, and these actions had the goal of harming the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and boosting the candidacy of President-elect Donald Trump. This report demonstrates the important role of our nation’s intelligence community and the men and women who work quietly every day to keep our country safe. The strength of America’s democracy will be measured, in part, on how we respond, and the steps we take to develop a robust and proactive cyber strategy, including tools and capabilities to deter and effectively respond to future attempts by foreign actors to influence America’s democratic process. (emphasis added)

House and Senate members in both parties know this is bad and have known for some time. They also appear to believe that some of the underlying intelligence is extremely damaging, yet despite having the institutional mechanism to force the declassification of that intelligence, they are making no effort to do so. If the #Russianhacking operations are truly the threat these House and Senate members claim, they have an obligation to force the key information on those activities into the public domain.

As taxpayers, we don’t fund the IC so it can simply be a high-priced, bureaucratic self-licking ice cream cone and jobs program. Our money paid for the means to detect exactly these kinds of attacks on our democratic institutions. If the attack was as extensive and persistent as claimed, the public has a right to know the full truth about it.