Barack Obama has ordered US intelligence agencies to conduct a “full review” of alleged Russian hacking into this year’s election and to issue a report before he leaves office next month.
Lisa Monaco, White House counter-terrorism adviser, said that the review, which would be sent to Congress but which might not be made public, would look at both what happened during the election and would consider “some after-action”.
The review comes as calls for congressional probes into the hacking of the election are increasing. Leading Republicans in Congress have said they plan to hold hearings next year on the issue and senior Democrats have called on the Obama administration to declassify and release more information about what it knows about the hacking.
The growing rumblings over Russia’s role in the election could set up an early confrontation between Congress and the incoming Trump administration, which has called for closer ties with Moscow.
Although the US intelligence community issued a rare public statement in October claiming that Russia had been responsible for the hacks on Democratic politicians and political committees, president-elect Donald Trump has continued to cast doubt on Russia’s role in the hacking.
In an interview with Time magazine this week, he said that he did not believe that Russia had interfered in the election. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals,” Mr Trump said.
Over the course of the summer, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Some Democrats have suggested that the controversies and bad publicity generated by the emails dumps — which only affected their party — contributed to Mr Trump’s victory in the election.
Ms Monaco said that the intelligence report into the hacking would be made available to “a range of stakeholders” including Congress, but she was uncertain about how much of the information could be made public because of concerns about disclosing sources and methods.
“We may be crossed into a new threshold and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what this means, what has happened and to impart those lessons learned,” she told reporters in Washington on Friday.
Earlier this week, Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled legislation calling for a bipartisan independent commission to investigate Russian involvement in the election.
A group of Democratic senators has sent a letter to the White House urging it to publish details on the hacking, in order to back up the claim by the intelligence community of Russian involvement that Mr Trump is playing down.
“To dismiss these [intelligence] officials is unbecoming of what we expect from a president-elect,” said Ron Wyden, one of the leading Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee who signed the letter. He also criticised Mr Trump for only taking a handful of briefings from the intelligence community since the election — something recent president-elects have done almost daily.
Some Republicans are also pushing for a probe into Russia’s election role, led by Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain. “It’s pretty clear to me that WikiLeaks was designed to hurt Clinton and it could be us tomorrow,” Mr Graham told CNN on Wednesday.
For the more hawkish Senate Republicans such as Mr Graham, the issue of hacking the election could become part of a broader battle with the new president over his approach to Russia, given Mr Trump’s desire to “get along better” with Moscow.
“I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia,” Mr Graham said. “I want [Russian president Vladimir] Putin personally to pay a price.”
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