Questions about Russian interference loom as first Congressional hearing approaches

The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first hearing regarding Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election this Monday. Among the witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing include FBI Director James Coney and National Security Director Mike Rogers.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also set a date for a similar hearing of its own on March 30. This hearing will consist of two panels; the first panel will focus on Russian information campaigns, and the second will be centered on Russian cyber operations.

These hearings aim to address a looming question for both the Trump administration and the country: did Russian operatives purposefully intervene in, and thus affect the results of, the U.S. presidential election?

Just two weeks ago, Clapper denied existence of any evidence giving that would lend credence to the accusations of collusion on Meet the Press, saying the FBI “had no evidence of such collusion” between the President and the Russian government.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke directly to Clapper’s statement on Meet the Press on Sunday.

“I was surprised to see Director Clapper say that [there is no evidence], because I don’t think you can make that claim categorically as he did,” said Schiff. “There is certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation.”

In fact, while there may not be any official, public evidence implicating Trump’s role in the Russian interference, the United States Intelligence Community has accused the Russian government of purposefully intervening in the election.

In October 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement which said, “the U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations.”

Similarly, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report in January that said, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Hillary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report read. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

The Trump administration has addressed the issue, claiming the president has not colluded with the Russian government. President Trump also personally addressed speculation regarding Russia’s role in the election in a statement in January.

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations, including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election, including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.

Similarly, the Russian government has staunchly denied the claims made in the report, and has maintained that they played no role in influencing the outcome of the presidential election, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling the accusations “reminiscent of a witch hunt.”

“We continue to categorically rule out any involvement by Moscow and accusations that officials or official Russian agencies could be involved in any hacker attacks,” said Peskov.

“From our viewpoint, allegations supported by absolutely nothing continue to be heard at quite an amateur, emotional level, which is hardly applicable to the highly professional work of really high-quality security services.”

Still, the Congressional hearings represent a step towards answering these questions, and have been met with bipartisan support.

“Here’s what I would tell Republicans: We cannot sit on the sidelines as a party and let allegations against a foreign government interfering in our election process go unanswered because it may have been beneficial to our cause,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

“This perilous menace goes beyond party, beyond politics and beyond partisanship. Although these attacks were executed to harm the Democratic candidate for president on this occasion, Russia’s actions sow doubts about our entire elections system and merit a robust congressional investigation,” Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote in a statement.

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