WASHINGTON ― Seven influential Democrats have sent President Barack Obama a letter urging that the government share more information on Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election.
“Foreign interference presents a win-win for Russia—which we must counter,” the legislators wrote. “By eroding Americans’ and foreigners’ trust in U.S. institutions, Russia both weakens our country and sows global instability and uncertainty.”
The group comprises Democratic whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and the ranking Democrats on the judiciary, foreign affairs, homeland security, oversight, armed services and intelligence committees. They want all members of Congress to receive a classified briefing on “Russian malfeasance” through hacks, aiding the release of private emails, misinformation targeting American voters and any other means.
The U.S. intelligence community has said it is certain that the Russian government is behind the hacking of emails embarrassing to the Democratic Party that were later published on WikiLeaks and elsewhere, a charge the Russians and president-elect Donald Trump have questioned (though Trump’s running mate has had more faith in U.S. analysts.) Data scientists worried about the security of machines involved in the election process have supported efforts to audit the vote in case Russian involvement spread to hacking. And the Obama administration believes the Russian government spends at least $400 million per year on bots, trolls and spreading false information that boosts the Kremlin’s worldview, State Department human rights official Sarah Sewall said on Friday.
Moscow can expect softer treatment from Trump than from Obama or former Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, and Trump has already spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man he has praised frequently, more than he has with any other foreign leader.
But Russia experts warn that exaggerating the Kremlin’s impact in lieu of clear evidence is counterproductive and might only aid the Russians’ claims of broad influence. It could also backfire for Democrats, given Putin’s popularity among some segments of the white nationalist movement known as the alt-right ―which has become increasingly vocal since Trump’s win ― and the popular claim that the party has used the specter of Russia’s role to distract from its own failures in the election.
By seeking all information the intelligence community can share with lawmakers, who hold security clearances, the Democrats could help policy-makers and the public keep the conversation to the facts ― and make it harder to dismiss.
“To evaluate Congress’s response appropriately, we would like all Members to have a comprehensive understanding of what the U.S. Intelligence Community knows regarding Russia’s involvement in these actions and attempts to interfere in our election,” the lawmakers wrote.
Some on Capitol Hill are also pushing for more details about Russian activities to be made public. Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have advocated for this, as has Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who wants Senate hearings.
“I want a good relationship with Russia, but things have to substantially change,” Graham said last month.