Intelligence panel chair asks why Democrats denied FBI access after Russian hacking
Anna Douglas, McClatchy, Jan 19 2017
In the first open Senate intelligence hearing since federal officials released to the public a declassified account of Russian hacking prior to the 2016 presidential election, Chairman Richard Burr said Tuesday that Pindosi values are “under assault,” but he tried to send a reassuring message that “our democracy is not at risk.” Burr said:
I know that the public disclosure of these activities surprised many. The notion that another state would attempt to interfere in our elections is troubling.
He said he didn’t doubt intelligence findings of deliberate Russian interference to discredit Hillary Clinton, or more broadly to attempt to undermine confidence in the government. Burr promised the Senate Intelligence Committee will conduct an independent, bipartisan review of what the CIA, the FBI and the DNI call a multifaceted and aggressive “influence campaign” directed by Putin & his most senior lieutenants. Burr told McClatchy in an interview after the hearing that he also wants to know who among federal intelligence employees had early access to the hacking report released last Friday. some details of which were published last Friday by at least one national news outlet. Donald Trump angrily tweeted on Friday that “classified and/or highly confidential” information had been leaked to NBC prior to intelligence officials briefing him on it. Later, Trump tweeted that he would ask Burr and the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, to investigate “top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.” Burr said:
I plan to ask for a list of the pool of individuals that knew the content of this report prior to the president being briefed, the ‘Gang of Eight’ being briefed and the president-elect being briefed, so I have some idea as to how big the pool of individuals are that may have leaked the story to NBC, accurate or not accurate. It would be the normal request that the committee would make regardless of whether we had had a referral from an individual, because the committee’s responsibility is the security of information and data. So if somebody has breached their authority … they should be pursued. That effort would be separate from the committee’s current work.
Burr didn’t say whether Trump had personally contacted him about it. Senator Tom Cotton said Tuesday that he wanted the committee to look into the media leak.
In particular, during Tuesday’s public hearing, Burr wanted to know why the DNC didn’t give the FBI direct access to servers and devices that had been compromised in a cyber-attack. Comey told Burr the agency and its investigators had made “multiple requests at different levels” for access to DNC infrastructure and John Podesta’s devices for the purposes of investigating cyber-attacks and subsequent information leaks. Burr asked:
Would that access have provided intelligence or information helpful to your investigation?
Comey answered that such access renders the “best evidence” but that investigators had had to settle for information about the cyber-attack through a reputable private company that worked with the DNC hacking victims. Comey said:
We’d always prefer to have access hands-on ourselves.
He said he didn’t know why the DNC + Podesta wouldn’t give the FBI direct access. Burr told McClatchy afterward that he’s been focused on the DNC denying the FBI access since at least May of last year. He said:
I want to know why any organization that had been attacked as viciously and had had as much data exfiltrated wouldn’t want to have law enforcement involved in the forensics, and why they chose to go to an outside (party). From a standpoint of a person responsible for oversight, it has to make you potentially question the accuracy of it, and I would only suggest that since we have our own intelligence apparatus, maybe they have tools that are unique to them and not to the private sector companies. That’s not something we can talk about in open session. I don’t think the actors are in question. The question is, did we miss some of the texture we could have gotten because we didn’t have access?
During Burr’s period of questioning Comey and Clapper, he also sought to clarify publicly whether Russian hackers may have altered DNC + Podesta emails before leaking them. Clapper said there was no evidence of manipulation prior to leaks. Burr, who will lead the ongoing Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, pledged on Tuesday a nonpartisan approach and to follow the “intelligence wherever it leads.” He said he’s instructed a select group of committee staff members to review the underlying, classified evidence and sources. Also Tuesday, Democrat senators on the committee attempted to get information from Comey and others about whether they’re looking into the Trump campaign’s or the incoming administration’s possible ties to Russia. Ron Wyden hammered the issue and asked Comey to provide a declassified report or say whether there’s an investigation before Trump’s inauguration. He said:
I think the Pindo creeple have a right to know this. And if there is delay … if it doesn’t happen before Jan 20, I’m not sure it’s gonna happen.
Comey said he wouldn’t confirm or deny any pending investigations. The exchange led to a terse comment aimed at Comey from Senator Angus King. In an apparent reference to Comey’s public statement just before Election Day about new information in a previously closed case involving Clinton’s emails, King charged:
The irony of you making that statement I cannot avoid.
Comey pushed back, saying there’s a difference between talking about open versus closed FBI investigations. The FBI probe surrounding Clinton and her private email server was closed before the election.