Senate Intel chair: 'No reason' to doubt Russia's election hacks

Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said on Tuesday he has “no reason” to question the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia launched a cyber assault on the 2016 presidential election.

Intelligence agencies last week released a report accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering a digital campaign to interfere with the U.S. election. The operation eventually aimed to help install President-elect Donald Trump in the White House, the report said.

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the subject, Burr said his briefings on the evidence behind the report “give me no reason to doubt the findings contained within the product.”

That said, the North Carolina Republican added that the panel would launch its own bipartisan investigation to assess “the sourcing behind the report.”

As part of that, his committee is asking top intelligence leaders for access to the as much of the intelligence that supported the findings as possible.

“I want to assure my colleagues on this committee and in this body that we will follow the intelligence wherever it leads, and we will conduct this review in a non-partisan manner,” Burr said.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying before the panel, said congressional staffers would have access to the raw intelligence.

Tuesday’s hearing is the first congressional foray on the subject since U.S. intelligence agencies last week officially accused Putin of personally orchestrating the digital campaign that roiled the 2016 presidential election.

Burr’s support of the report distances him from President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly declined to say whether he agrees with the findings.

Trump receiving a briefing last week from top officials on a classified version of the assessment.

Since then, members of Trump’s team, including incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, have said Trump “accepts” the report’s conclusions.

Trump has vowed to address the issue himself during a Wednesday press conference where he will also announce plans to untangle himself from his business interests to avoid conflict of interest concerns as president.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Intelligence panel’s top Democrat, said interference in the U.S. electoral process “by any outside power is unacceptable.”

“What the Russian did was nothing less than an attack on our political system and democracy itself,” he said. “We simply cannot allow that to stand.”

The lawmaker also noted that the Obama administration’s assessment shows the Kremlin “also hacked systems associated with Republicans.”

“They just chose to not release that information … yet,” he added. “There is nothing that prevents them from doing so at a time of their choosing in the future.”

Burr emphasized that, despite these digital threats, “our democracy is not at risk.”

“We can rest assured in the strength of the United States of America and have continued faith in the electoral process,” he said.

But Burr warned: “We must be alert.”

“Our values are, indeed, under assault,” he said.

The Intelligence Committee is one of three Senate panels probing Russia’s digital mischief.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week held its first hearing on the subject. Democrats used the session to skewer Trump for his ongoing dismissal of the intelligence community’s investigation. Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has vowed to hold more meetings on the matter and press for additional sanctions on Moscow, building on those the Obama administration slapped on Russia late last month.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also looking into the matter, holding a closed-door briefing with Obama administration officials last week.


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