Senate Intelligence Committee staffers will review and vet the classified sources underpinning intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive hacking operation to destabilize the 2016 presidential election, Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said Tuesday.
The review will boost the legitimacy of those agencies’ conclusions but may be insufficient for some critics, including several advisers to President-elect Donald Trump, who say the intelligence community should release additional evidence to back up its findings.
It’s not clear whether the congressional review will include intelligence community leaks to NBC News and other news organizations as Trump has requested. Asked by Sen Tom Cotton, R-Ark., whether the leaks will be part of the review, Burr replied he and ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., are discussing the matter.
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Trump plans to ask congressional intelligence leaders to investigate those leaks, according to a Sunday tweet, though there’s no indication Trump has made that request formally.
Trump has repeatedly questioned intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russian leaders were responsible for the breaches and has said intelligence leaders’ interest in the issue is a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The president-elect has declined to say whether his position has changed on the Russian attribution since being briefed on the more extensive classified report Friday, but he may address the question during a Wednesday press conference.
Trump’s nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department, Gen. John Kelly, said he accepted the report’s conclusions “with high confidence” during a confirmation hearing Tuesday. DHS is the government’s top civilian cyber agency and charged with helping the private sector ensure the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure.
Burr, who has also been briefed on the classified version of the Jan. 6 report, stressed Tuesday he is confident about the report’s conclusions. However, the staff investigation, he said, will be thorough and bipartisan.
“We will follow the intelligence wherever it leads,” he said. “We will conduct this review in a nonpartisan manner.”
Burr previously announced committee staffers would investigate the underpinnings of an Oct. 7 statement attributing breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign to the top levels of the Russian government.
Information gathered following that statement and in the wake of the election have given intelligence officials even greater confidence that top Russian officials ordered the breaches, outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said. He reiterated that position during Tuesday’s hearing, saying, “I’ve got great confidence we got it right here.”
During Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence hearing, FBI Director James Comey also confirmed press reports his agency did not examine the breached DNC servers or the personal devices of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta despite making multiple requests to do so. Instead, the FBI agreed with the organizations it would review forensic evidence gathered by the private cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, he said.
“Our forensics folks would always prefer to get access to the original device or serve involved,” he said. “It’s the best evidence.”