The nation’s top intelligence official said this morning that Russia undoubtedly interfered in America’s 2016 presidential election.
But The Associated Press reports he stopped short of the explosive description of “an act of war,” telling lawmakers such a call isn’t within the purview of the U.S. intelligence community.
In a joint report that roiled the presidential campaign last fall, the Homeland Security Department and the intelligence community said the U.S. was confident of foreign meddling, including Russian government hacking of Democratic emails.
In its assessment, the intelligence community has said Moscow interfered in the election 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 Armed Services Committee.
Pressed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., 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 government to decide.
Clapper and other U.S. intelligence said President Barack Obama has received a report on the Russian interference and other foreign meddling in the U.S. election. They said Russia poses a major and growing threat to U.S. government, military, diplomatic and commercial operations.
Clapper said lawmakers will be briefed on the Russian hacking report next week and an unclassified version is tentatively scheduled to be released shortly after that.
Clapper declined to discuss Russia’s meddling beyond earlier statements. But he said Russia’s hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”
McCain, the Arizona Republican and chairman of the 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.
The hearing comes a day before the president-elect receives a briefing by the CIA and FBI directors—along with the head of national intelligence—on the investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking efforts.
Trump has criticized their findings and even seemed to back WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s contention that Russia did not provide him with hacked Democratic emails.
In new tweets early this morning, Trump backed away from his apparent embrace of Assange. Trump blamed the “dishonest media” for portraying him as agreeing with Assange, whose organization has been under criminal investigation for its role in classified information leaks.
“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump tweeted. Clapper told the committee Assange has no credibility.