Two senior Democratic lawmakers with access to classified intelligence on Thursday accused Russia of “making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election,” a charge that appeared aimed at putting pressure on the Obama administration to confront Moscow.
The jointly issued statement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — Californians who are the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees, respectively — described recent cyber penetrations of the Democratic National Committee and other U.S. political entities as intrusions that were likely directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes,” the statement said. “We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government.”
Feinstein and Schiff said they reached their conclusion “based on briefings we have received” from U.S. intelligence agencies.
The blunt language goes far beyond the more equivocal characterizations issued by the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies, which have so far been unwilling to explicitly blame Moscow.
Speaking this week at a public event hosted by The Washington Post, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., cited a long history of Russian efforts to influence elections abroad, and said that “it shouldn’t come as a big shock to people” that Moscow might seek to use cyber capabilities for that purpose.
But he stopped short of drawing aa direct link between the DNC hack and Russian intelligence services, amid an ongoing debate within the administration over whether to publicly blame Russia.
White House officials have repeatedly insisted that they are awaiting the outcome of a formal FBI investigation, even though U.S. intelligence are said to have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia was responsible for the DNC breach and other attacks.
The White House hesitation has become a source of frustration to critics, including senior members of Congress.
The statement from Schiff and Feinstein did not critize President Obama’s handling of the matter and called on Putin “to immediately order a halt to this activity.” In an interview, Schiff said that he and Feinstein “think it’s important to deter Russia from continuing this kind of conduct that they be called out on it. We’ve urged the administration to do that.”
He said the timing of the statement was not driven by any new developments in the investigation of the hacks. “It’s been in the works for longer than that,” Schiff said, adding that “evidence is strong in terms of attribution.”