The nation’s top intelligence official is set to be quizzed on a declassified report that fingered the Kremlin in hacking during the presidential campaign, just one day after the US sanctioned five Russians.
Tuesday’s appearance is second time in a week for National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Capitol Hill — this time before the Senate intelligence committee where lawmakers’ questions will expose the underlying debate over the future of US-Russian relations.
The report explicitly tied Russia President Vladimir Putin to hacking of email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and individual Democrats like Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Russia also used state-funded propaganda and paid “trolls” to make nasty comments on social media services, the report said, although there was no suggestion such operations affected the actual vote count.
The report lacked details about how the US learned what it says it knows, such as any intercepted conversations or electronic messages from Russian leaders, including Putin. It also said nothing about specific hacker techniques or digital tools the US may have traced back to Russia in its investigations.
The economic sanctions levied Monday against five Russians are not related to the US intelligence agencies findings, officials said, Instead, they are connected to a 2012 US law punishing Russian human rights violators. Americans are now banned from doing business with the men and any assets they may have in the United States are now frozen.
The most prominent individual targeted by the US is Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s main investigative agency. Bastrykin and Putin attended the same university together.
The Investigative Committee under Bastrykin investigated Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky’s death in prison in 2009. It determined that Magnitsky died in detention and closed the case after determining that there was no evidence of a crime.
Two of the Russians placed on the Treasury Department’s list have been accused of trying to help cover up Magnitsky’s death. Britain blames the two others for the London murder of a former Russian spy.
Forty-four Russians have now been subjected to US sanctions under the so-called Magnitsky law, the State Department said.
Before the new penalties were announced, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the Kremlin still believes the US accusations of election hacking have no substance.
“They are amateurish and are hardly worthy of the high professional standards of top intelligence agencies,” Peskov said. “We categorically rule out the possibility that Russian officials or official bodies could have been involved. We are tired of such accusations. This is beginning to remind us of a full-fledged witch hunt.”
According to US intelligence agencies, Russia provided the emails to WikiLeaks. The website’s founder, Julian Assange, denies that is the case, but Democratic and Republican members of Congress have largely backed the accusation and many have demanded a sterner response.
On Monday, Assange called the report on hacking a politically motivated “press release” and said it provided no evidence that Russian actors gave WikiLeaks hacked material.