The Cable

Obama Orders Review of Putin’s Meddling in the U.S. Election

Will the next administration act on any of the findings, or will Congress?


President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the hacking that disrupted the U.S. presidential election after weeks of speculation as to whether Russian information warfare may have helped tip the scales in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.

The order came a week after seven top Democratic senators urged Obama to declassify intelligence on Russia’s election meddling. U.S. intelligence officials have spent months collecting data on the emails hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. The cyber interference in the election may also have included the dissemination of “fake news,” invented stories and outright lies that were widely shared on social media.

On Friday, White House counterterrorism and homeland security security adviser Lisa Monaco told reporters the president ordered a “full-review” of the activities, including hacking that aimed to disrupt the 2016 presidential elections.

“We maybe crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what this means, what has happened, and to impart those lessons learned,” Monaco she said.  

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early October that it was “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” The statement added, “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

The Obama administration could well complete a review of the hacking before the arrival of the next administration, given the prior investigations. The bigger question is whether Trump would be willing to act on any findings that imputed a more serious role, or a deliberate objective, to the Russian hacks.

Trump has repeatedly dismissed comprehensive U.S. intelligence findings that point the finger at Russia, a country whose policies and leader he kept praising on the campaign trail.

“I don’t believe they interfered,” he said in his Time Person of the Year interview this month. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.”

That point of view is not widely shared in Congress on either side of the aisle, and could open the door to a congressional investigation of the election interference — — as former U.S. ambassador to Russia Mike McCaul suggests — that would likely be enduring than a Parthian shot from the outgoing administration.

Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are reportedly leading the charge for a Congressional probe into Russia’s election meddling. Both senators are staunch Russia hardliners. That could cause a showdown with Trump once he takes office; both senators criticized Trump for his vocal adoration of Putin during the presidential campaign season.

In August, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked the FBI to investigate evidence of Russia manipulating votes in the U.S. election. The specter of Russian meddling “is more extensive than is widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results,” he wrote. At the time, the FBI concluded there was no clear link between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Photo credit: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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