White House Tried Barring Senior Lawmakers From Blaming Russia for Cyber Attacks

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama in 2015 / AP
• September 28, 2016 10:45 am


The White House attempted to prevent top Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees from publicly confirming the Russian government was behind the recent cyber attacks against political computer systems.

Senior administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, attempted to delay Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) from releasing a statement last Friday formally charging the Kremlin of attempting to sway November’s election, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday night.

The joint statement marked the first on-record confirmation by U.S. government officials that Russia is attempting erode public confidence in the nation’s electoral system.

The White House did succeed in compelling Feinstein and Schiff to eliminate a portion of their original statement for security reasons, according to a congressional source. Administration officials also attempted to delay the statement’s release by three days, but both congressional offices decided to go public last week.

"You can’t have the White House telling a legislative body how to operate," the congressional source told BuzzFeed. "And [we] thought it was important."

Feinstein and Schiff charged in the statement that senior Russian government officials ordered hackers to break into multiple Democratic computer networks, including the Democratic National Committee, in a "serious" and "concerted" effort to influence the election.

U.S. officials and independent security experts are growing increasingly confident that the Kremlin steered leaked documents for publication to different websites, including WikiLeaks, DC Leaks, and a blog run by Guccifer 2.0, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

U.S. officials also believe that at least two Russian-linked hacking groups, called Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, are escalating cyber attacks against party officials and military leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied involvement in the attacks.

The FBI recently opened an investigation into suspected attempts to breach cell phones used by Democratic Party officials within the past month, according to Reuters. Russian-backed hackers also appear to be responsible for the attempted phone hacks.