Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch, a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Friday that hacking has become a constant in global affairs, and that Americans shouldn’t be surprised by suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
But Risch, 73, a second-term senator who is also on the Foreign Relations Committee, said there’s no evidence that Russia did anything that influenced the outcome of the election, despite the CIA’s and FBI’s contention that Russia tried to help President-elect Donald Trump win.
“I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of briefings over the last eight years on hacking and attempted hacking – and it’s ubiquitous, it’s constant,” Risch said in an interview. “From where I sit, these things aren’t surprising to me. I’m a little amazed that the rest of the world is so surprised at this – because it is reported.”
As an example, he cited the highly publicized November 2014 cyberattack against Sony Pictures, which U.S. intelligence officials said was sponsored by North Korea.
“You can assume every moment of every day there’s hacking going on,” Risch said, “not only by state actors but by non-state actors, and sometimes a combination of those.”
Risch, second in seniority among Republicans on both the intelligence and foreign relations panels, said he has no objections to having Congress investigate the issue. But he’s not expecting to learn anything new.
“I’ve heard all this stuff, but certainly anybody who needs more should pursue it,” Risch said.
Risch said Russia has become “notorious for injecting themselves” in elections, including in France and Austria. But he said there’s no proof that the Russians were successful in their attempts to meddle with the U.S. election.
“There’s been innuendo, but no one has alleged that anything that the Russians did or other state actors did influenced the outcome of the election – and that’s a really important point,” Risch said. “This really shouldn’t shock people. What you need to look at is: Was there an effect that they had on the election? And so far I’ve seen nobody who claims that they can prove that the Russians – or any other state actor for that matter – influenced our elections.”
In an NPR News interview that aired Friday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. would respond to the Russian hacking, promising that “what we do is proportional” and “meaningful.” He said whenever a foreign government tries to interfere in U.S. elections, the nation must take action “and we will at a time and place of our own choosing.”
“You’ll note that he wasn’t specific,” Risch said.
Risch said that a U.S. response would be “upping the ante” and could result in retaliation from the Kremlin, which has denied any hacking.
“Pretty soon you have a full-scale internet war on your hands,” Risch said. “These things are more complicated than saying, ‘Oh, well, we’ll respond.’ You want to be really cautious.”
Risch declined to comment on Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has been criticized by some Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill for his close ties to Russia.
“I’m going to talk with him next week; I’ll meet with him the week after,” Risch said. “Obviously, there will be a lot of testimony in the committee, and we’ll go from there.”