December 16, 2016 / 6:04 PM / 8 months ago

U.S. intelligence agencies feud with Republicans over Russian hacking

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attends a hearing, where he announced his resignation, in Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. November 17, 2016.Carlos Barria

Republican members of Congress are complaining that U.S. intelligence agencies are refusing to brief them widely on a classified CIA report that concluded Russia hacked Democratic Party data in an effort to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

The Republicans said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has refused their requests for full briefings of Congress' two intelligence committees. U.S. government officials said the leaders of Congress and the chairmen of the two intelligence committees, known as the "Gang of Eight," have been briefed on the Central Intelligence Agency's conclusion.

Nevertheless, Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is a member of President-elect Trump's transition team as well as the Gang of Eight, has called for a briefing for his entire committee on the CIA assessment.

"The committee is vigorously looking into reports of cyber-attacks during the election campaign, and in particular we want to clarify press reports that the CIA has a new assessment that it has not shared with us," Nunes said.Representative Ron Johnson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said his panel also has asked for a briefing but the CIA refused.

"It is disappointing that the CIA would provide information on this issue to the Washington Post and NBC but will not provide information to elected members of Congress," Johnson said in a statement on Friday.

Three U.S. government sources, who all asked for anonymity to discuss classified information, told Reuters that while the full congressional committees have not been briefed, the congressional leadership has, which is the standard procedure for briefing Congress on sensitive intelligence.

The sources said that Nunes was personally briefed on the CIA finding. A congressional official denied Nunes was briefed, however.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said in a statement that because President Barack Obama last week ordered the intelligence community to conduct a full-scale "review of foreign efforts to influence recent presidential elections – from 2008 to the present," the agencies would not comment further until the study is completed.

BRIEFING TO FOLLOW

U.S. Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013.Jonathan Ernst

ODNI, which oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, said that when the review is complete, the U.S. intelligence community "stands ready to brief Congress."

The office said it also would make the study "available to the public consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods."

The CIA based its conclusion about Russia hacking to influence the election not on irrefutable evidence but largely on its analysis of the fact that the Russians hacked both political parties while only publicizing information damaging to Democrats and their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, said a U.S. official familiar with the agency's work, who also requested anonymity.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the USA Thank You Tour event at the Wisconsin State Fair Exposition Center in West Allis, Wisconsin, U.S., December 13, 2016.Shannon Stapleton

Two of the government sources said on Friday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation now backs the CIA assessment that the Russian hacks were aimed at helping Trump win. The ODNI also agrees with the assessment, all three government sources said.

There was no immediate comment from the FBI.

The FBI, which has responsibility for counterintelligence investigations inside the United States, initially did not endorse the CIA's finding because it did not meet the standards of evidence necessary to win a conviction in a U.S. court or identify individuals whose hacking violated American law, one source said.The debate over Russian hacking also is opening a rift between Trump and some Republican members of Congress.

The president-elect continues to dismiss the intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the hacking.

On Friday, Senator Richard Burr, Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced his committee will conduct a review in the new year of U.S. intelligence on Russian activities and its cyber activity more broadly.

The review will include questioning of both Obama and Trump officials, “including the issuance of subpoenas if necessary to compel testimony,” Burr said in a statement.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Warren Strobel, John Walcott and Tom Brown

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