The Russian government hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee, leaked the information they stole and “was behind the cyber intrusion” of American voter files, among much more.
In short, Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election. And, really, few in this city disagree on that point. Former FBI Director James Comey testified Thursday in a Senate hearing: “There is no fuzz on that.”
For all the controversy and political spin that applies to so much of the federal investigation into what is now generally referred to as the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, these shocking facts were cited without challenge by Democrats, Republicans and the witness during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday.
As Comey explained under questioning by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., “The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government.”
We’re talking about a foreign government that, using technical intrusion, lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally.
Former FBI Director James Comey
During a hearing that focused on meetings between Comey and Trump, several participants took time to talk about exactly what Russia did and the dangers in those actions.
Comey described so-called “Russian active measures” that began in the summer of 2015 and accelerated in the summer of 2016.
Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., asked Comey whether he had “any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections?”
Comey’s response: “None.”
Burr followed up with questions about the details of what Russia accused of having done, asking if Comey doubted the allegations and each time Comey said “No.”
And Burr finished up this line of questions by asking “Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?”
We're here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process – our presidential election
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
And while those were Comey’s answers, unlike with much of the rest of what he said, no one questioned or challenged him on it.
Russia interference in the election is the core of the investigation that has overwhelmed the nation’s capital, especially since a Joint Intelligence report on the matter was made public in January. In that report, the American intelligence community states that Russians actively tried to swing the presidential election away from Democrat and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was the presumed favorite, and toward Trump. The intelligence report makes no claim that the effort was the reason for his victory. But it is definite on the idea they tried.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle note that it’s the most dangerous allegation in a large lot of allegations surrounding this investigation. It’s something that attacks the foundation of American democracy, something which in overall threat to the United States, certainly transcends partisanship and perhaps even any single presidency.
In recent months members of Trump’s campaign have dismissed allegations and belittled the idea as something created by sore losers among Democrats. But, at least in this committee, they’ve had little support on the point.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the committee’s vice chairman, opened up his comments during the hearing by offering “what we already know and what we’re still investigating.”
“We’re here because a foreign adversary attacked us right here at home, plain and simple, not by guns or missiles, but by foreign operatives seeking to hijack our most important democratic process – our presidential election,” Warner said. “Russian spies engaged in a series of online cyber raids and a broad campaign of disinformation, all ultimately aimed at sowing chaos to us to undermine public faith in our process, in our leadership and ultimately in ourselves. And that’s not just this senator’s opinion; it is the unanimous determination of the entire U.S. intelligence community.”
Warner said that the investigation “is not about re-litigating the election. It’s not about who won or lost. And it sure as heck is not about Democrats versus Republicans.”
As Comey testified Thursday, it was a “massive effort.” It included “at least hundreds” of U.S. targets, from governmental bodies to non-government agencies.
Heinrich later said that Trump “has repeatedly talked about the Russian investigation … as a hoax and as fake news.”
He then asked Comey for his take on that.
“It is a high-confidence judgment of the entire intelligence community, and – and the members of this committee have – have seen the intelligence,” Comey testified. “It’s not a close call. That happened. That’s about as un-fake as you can possibly get, and is very, very serious.”
Members of Congress have repeatedly talked about the possibility that the Russian attacks will be repeated in 2018, or 2020, or beyond. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said, “I don’t think Putin is a Republican or a Democrat. He’s an opportunist.”
For his part, Comey summed up the concerns about Russians interfering in an American election. He described “this big, messy, wonderful country where we fight with each other all the time, but nobody tells us what to think, what to fight about, what to vote for, except other Americans.”
But what happened in 2016 was different.
“But we’re talking about a foreign government that, using technical intrusion, lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act,” Comey said.
“That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re coming after America, which I hope we all love equally.”