WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama expects to receive a U.S. intelligence report on security breaches during the 2016 election before he leaves office on Jan. 20, his homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco, told reporters Friday.
“The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process,” Monaco said, speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast event. Congress will be briefed on the report, she said, and Obama’s team will determine how much to share with the public once they see the results.
The U.S. intelligence community announced on Oct. 7 that it believes hackers supported by the Russian government were responsible for meddling in the election process, including by targeting the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton adviser John Podesta and other notable political figures, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Congressional Democrats have ramped up their pressure for more details on Russian activities since President-elect Donald Trump, who has been notably friendly toward Russia, triumphed over Clinton on Nov. 8. Last month, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee sent Obama a letter asking him to declassify information on the Russian interference. Earlier this week, Democrats on key House committees dealing with national security sent their own letter, asking that all members of Congress be informed of everything the intelligence community knows about Russian activity in 2016.
Obama’s review may satisfy the latter demand.
But it will not necessarily satisfy the interest in giving the public further information about the Russian role. Some Russia experts believe that is essential to prevent exaggerating Russia’s power in a way that helps Moscow and to offer truly effective, rather than hyperbolic, responses.
Monaco emphasized that investigators looking at the election would consider a range of threats that affected it, not just those emanating from Russia.
She noted that she’d had to communicate with the Obama and McCain campaigns in 2008, during her previous job at the FBI, to tell them about Chinese state-sponsored intrusions into their systems.
“We’ve seen in 2008, and this last election system, malicious cyberactivity,” Monaco said. “We may be crossing a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened and to impart those lessons learned.”
Of course, the Chinese interference did not have the kind of impact on perceptions of a specific candidate that Moscow’s did this year.
In any case, the review will hardly end the conversation in Washington about how to handle Moscow. The review’s findings could bolster congressional efforts to punish Russia for its attempts to undermine the U.S. and its allies. Top Senate Republicans are already preparing a probe ― defying their party’s putative leader, Trump, who has said he does not believe the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow directed meddling.
“They’ll keep doing more here until they pay a price,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Washington Post this week.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, welcomed the Obama administration’s announcement.
“After many briefings by our intelligence community, it is clear to me that the Russians hacked our democratic institutions and sought to interfere in our elections and sow discord,” Schiff said. “In this, tragically, they succeeded.”
“Given President-elect Trump’s disturbing refusal to listen to our intelligence community and accept that the hacking was orchestrated by the Kremlin, there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month,” he went on.