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Electoral College Voters Join Growing Calls for Investigation of Russian Election Hacking

by Countable | 12.12.16

Following the revelation of a secret CIA report that found Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was aimed at boosting Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency rather just undermining public confidence, 10 Electoral College voters have asked for intelligence briefings before they cast their ballots December 19.

The 10 electors, a group which includes the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), sent an open letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for a briefing about the findings of any investigations into the matter. They also requested that Trump provide evidence that he and his staff didn’t accept or collaborate with Russian interference, in addition to disavowing that interference going forward.

What did the CIA find?

The intelligence agency told senators in a confidential briefing that it’s "quite clear" that Russia’s goal in hacking the DNC and Democratic leaders was to boost Trump’s odds of winning the election. That theory, according to the New York Times, is based in part on the CIA’s belief that the RNC was hacked as well, but that the hackers only turned over Democratic emails to WikiLeaks. Additionally, the CIA has identified the individuals with ties to the Russian government who gave the emails to WikiLeaks, and they’re believed to have played a role in a larger operation to help Trump at Hillary Clinton’s expense.

The CIA’s report isn’t considered a formal U.S. assessment, which would’ve included all 17 intelligence agencies, and some disagreements exist in the intelligence community over its findings. On the law enforcement side of the debate, the FBI has pushed back against the CIA’s report over questions about how conclusive the evidence against the Russian government is. For example, there’s no intelligence showing that the Kremlin was "directing" the individuals — who aren’t government employees — to give the emails to WikiLeaks. That gives the Russian government plausible deniability, as they can defend themselves against accusations of tampering by saying that the perpetrators weren’t acting in an official capacity on their behalf.

Much of the difference between how the CIA and FBI view the intelligence in front of them can be traced to the nature of the work they do. The CIA gathers raw intelligence and analyzes it to make inferences about the motivations and goals of a government or individual, whereas the FBI is more methodical in looking for conclusive evidence that can be used by prosecutors (or in this case foreign policy decisionmakers).

Will there be further investigations?

At this time it looks as though there could be several ongoing investigations now that congressional leaders are getting involved.

In line with President Obama’s request for a full review of election-related hacking dating back to 2008, intelligence agencies will continue to investigate Russia’s role in the electoral meddling. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the soon-to-be top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (NY), have agreed that a bipartisan investigation will be carried out by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said that the intelligence committee’s counterpart in the lower chamber will do the same.

What could the impact be?

For the Electoral College, the true impact won’t be known until electors cast their ballots on December 19, though it seems unlikely that enough votes will change to deny Trump the 270 he needs to win the presidency or to send the decision to the House of Representatives.

In terms of U.S.-Russia relations, the findings of deeper investigations into Russia’s role in the hacking could have significant implications. If a direct link between the hackers and the Kremlin is found, there could be an increase in tensions that manifests itself in diplomatic bickering or more provocative acts, like one country deploying military assets near the other’s borders.

Even if no conclusive evidence links the Russian government to the hacking, the U.S. could look to punish the individuals who gave the emails to WikiLeaks. Among the actions that could be taken against the hackers include denying their entry into the U.S., or freezing assets that are held in American financial institutions. Assuming no connection between them and the Russian government is found, such actions would be easier diplomatically for the U.S. to take.

— Eric Revell

Countable

Written by Countable

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