US official: Russia undoubtedly meddled in US election

2017-01-05 21:01
(Evan Vucci, AP)

(Evan Vucci, AP)

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Washington - America's top intelligence official said on Thursday that Russia undoubtedly interfered in America's 2016 presidential election but stopped short of using the explosive description "an act of war", telling lawmakers such a call isn't within the purview of the US intelligence community.

In a joint report that roiled the presidential campaign in 2016, the Homeland Security Department and the intelligence community said the US was confident of foreign meddling, including Russian government hacking of Democratic emails.

In its assessment, the intelligence community has said Moscow interfered to help Republican Donald Trump win.

"We stand actually more resolutely on the strength of that statement than we did on the 7th of October," James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee.

Pressed by Senator John McCain (Arizona Republican) on whether the actions constituted an "act of war", Clapper said that was "a very heavy policy call" more appropriate for other entities in the US government to decide.

Trump criticism

Clapper pushed back against a barrage of criticism levelled against US intelligence agencies by Trump in recent days and the president-elect's apparent embrace of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

During an exchange with Senator Claire McCaskill (Missouri Democrat) Clapper said "there is an important distinction here between healthy scepticism" and "disparagement".

He said the intelligence community is an organisation of human beings and isn't perfect. But he said US spy agencies also don't get the credit they deserve for foiling terrorist plots and other successes too secret to discuss.

Clapper said Assange is "holed up" in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, unable to leave without being arrested for breaching his bail conditions. Swedish authorities have investigated Assange for a possible rape, which he has denied.

Assange has "put people at risk" by leaking classified information, Clapper added.

US President Barack Obama has received a report on the Russian interference and other foreign meddling in the US election, according to Clapper.

He and other senior US intelligence officials said Russia poses a major threat to US government, military, diplomatic and commercial operations.

Meddling

Clapper said lawmakers will be briefed on the Russian hacking report next week and an unclassified version is tentatively scheduled to be released to the public shortly after that.

CIA Director John Brennan said in a December 16 message to employees that the FBI agreed with the agency's conclusion that Russia's goal was to support Trump in the election.

Brennan wrote that he also had spoken with Clapper and said “there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election”.

Clapper on Thursday declined to discuss whether Russia's interference was aimed at backing Trump win. But he said Russia's hacking "did not change any vote tallies".

McCain, the chair of the Armed Services committee, said "every American should be alarmed" by Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

There is "no escaping the fact that this committee meets today for the first time in this new Congress in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack on our democracy", McCain said.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us

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