News & Politics

Obama Orders Review of Election Hacks, 'So Russia Doesn't Go Unpunished'

President Obama has ordered a review of the cyberattacks involved in this year’s presidential election, a White House spokeswoman announced Friday. Reportedly, the investigation aims to prove Russia’s involvement in the election, a common assertion by Democrats which many Republicans, including most notably President-elect Donald Trump, have denied.

White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said the president has ordered a “full review of what happened during the 2016 election process,” aiming to complete the analysis before Obama’s last day on January 20. The results of the report would be shared with lawmakers and others, Monaco told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security (ODNI) released a joint unclassified report declaring that “the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”

The statement alleged that all 17 intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that Russia was behind the hacked emails publicized on sites like DCLeaks and WikiLeaks. The statement did not announce direct evidence of Russian involvement, however, merely stating that the cyberattacks “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

Indeed, Russia has influenced foreign elections, especially in Europe, in recent years. But this statement arguably overstated the confidence of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and understated the political slant of the intelligence agencies, which even fought against George W. Bush’s efforts in 2004.

In October, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak denied any Russian government involvement in the hacking, saying that U.S. intelligence connecting it with Russia is incorrect. Naturally, Kislyak’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt, given his position.

Given this uncertainty and Trump’s insistence that Russia did not interfere with the election, Obama is concerned that “Russia will go unpunished,” administration officials told NBC News.

Intelligence officials are reportedly wary of disclosing information proving Russia’s involvement, fearful that doing so will compromise sensitive sources and key intelligence-gathering methods.

Despite Trump’s stance, a few Republicans in Congress — including Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain — have said they will support efforts by Democrats to investigate Russian hacks and other alleged interference in the election. On Thursday, 12 Republican senators joined 15 of their Democrat colleagues in calling on Trump to maintain America’s support for Ukraine “in the face of Russian aggression.”

Democrat Representative Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, praised Obama for ordering the hacking review. Schiff said he was “pleased that the Administration is undertaking a full review of Russian hacking into our elections and democratic institutions. The administration should work to declassify as much of it as possible, while protecting our sources and methods, and make it available to the public.”

Next Page: Trump’s most recent comments on the issue.

Trump has been unwilling to connect the hacking to Russia directly. “I don’t believe they interfered,” he said this week in an interview with Time magazine. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many ofhter people. Sources or even individuals.”

“Why not get along with Russia?” the president-elect asked, insisting that the country “can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart.”

There is evidence to suggest that Russia’s war on against the Islamic State (ISIS) is a smokescreen for Putin’s real goals, like keeping Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria. The country has beefed up its military capabilities, sparked a civil war in Ukraine, and is positioning itself as the major oil producer for Europe (and perhaps even Asia).

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort once made millions working for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Putin’s stooge in Ukraine. This connection may not mean the president-elect is close with Russia — after all, he replaced Manafort with Kellyanne Conway in August.

Obama’s order might bring to light which persons or state actors really were behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and others. Regardless of the findings, however, Americans must remember that this report comes from the same administration whose IRS targeted Tea Party groups.

Obama’s administration is not above using the levers of government for political advantage, so declarations should remain circumspect until they are backed up with hard evidence.