The White House has not responded to a week-old letter signed by every Democrat and aligned member of the Senate intelligence committee seeking declassification of “additional information concerning the Russian government and the US election”.
Now a group of senior House Democrats has also written to the president, seeking a classified briefing for colleagues on “Russian entities’ hacking of American political organizations; hacking and strategic release of emails from campaign officials; the WikiLeaks disclosures; fake news stories produced and distributed with the intent to mislead American voters; and any other Russian or Russian-related interference or involvement in our recent election.”
The letter was signed by Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, as well as the top Democrats on the House judiciary, intelligence, armed services, foreign affairs and oversight committees.
Both communiques from the congressional Democrats, several of whom have access to classified intelligence, strongly implied that the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies know significantly more about Russian involvement in the election than they have disclosed. Alternatively, the politicians could be raising suspicions without evidence to weaken the incoming president, Donald Trump, whom his former opponent Hillary Clinton dubbed a “puppet” of the Russians.
On 7 October, the top US intelligence and homeland security officials formally accused the Kremlin of directing the hack of the Democratic National Committee and implied that the Russians used WikiLeaks, which published extensive internal communications among top Democrats, to launder responsibility for the release. The unusual public accusation held that the Russians were attempting to “interfere” in the election.
Yet it is unclear if or when the White House will follow through on the elaboration its Democratic allies seek.
A senior administration official said the October statement came into being after the FBI and the intelligence agencies developed a mosaic of information about culpability for the hacks and had extensive internal discussion of what they were comfortable saying publicly.
“Any further declassification would need to follow the same framework, consistent with law enforcement and intelligence equities,” the official said.
As yet, there is no scheduled classified briefing of the sort sought by the House Democrats, though the White House is said to be open to one.
The official said the administration had conducted regular legislative briefings in the past months “regarding malicious cyber-activity related to our elections infrastructure” and was “committed to working with Congress to brief members and staff as appropriate”.
For his part, Trump again absolved Russia of culpability for the hack on Wednesday, though it is unclear if the intelligence briefings he attends include internal attributions of responsibility beyond the October statement.
Trump told Time magazine that he believed US intelligence was accusing Russia of the hack because of politics and said he rejected their conclusion.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump told the magazine, which bestowed its “person of the year” accolade on the president-elect.
The senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff of California, took umbrage at Trump’s implication that “the intelligence community is lying” and said Trump was not acting presidentially.
“Notwithstanding the abundance of evidence that Russia hacked our political institutions during the presidential campaign and dumped documents in an effort to meddle in our political affairs, President-elect Trump’s comments this morning continue to contradict our intelligence professionals and carry water for the Kremlin,” Schiff said on Wednesday.
Author: Spencer Ackerman