WASHINGTON - The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee told USA TODAY on Tuesday that Russian attacks on election systems were broader and targeted more states than those detailed in an explosive intelligence report leaked to the website The Intercept.
"I don't believe they got into changing actual voting outcomes," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said in an interview. "But the extent of the attacks is much broader than has been reported so far." He said he was pushing intelligence agencies to declassify the names of those states hit to help put electoral systems on notice before the midterm voting in 2018.
"None of these actions from the Russians stopped on Election Day," he warned.
The National Security Agency report said Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. supplier of voting software and sent deceptive emails to more than 100 local election officials in the days leading up to the election last November — a sign that Moscow's hacking may have penetrated further into voting systems than previously known.
The Justice Department on Monday announced that Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old federal contractor with a top-secret security clearance, had been charged with leaking classified information to an online media outlet. In Monday, The Intercept published the NSA document detailing the Russian involvement.
Warner said: "Whoever's the leaker should be pursued to the full extent of the law."
The two-term senator and former Virginia governor, 62, said most of the states involved now are aware they had been targeted by the Russian cyberattacks.
"Some folks say the states are victims, so they have to agree to release that information," he said. "I really want to press the case. This is not an attempt to embarrass any state. This is a case to make sure that the American public writ large realizes that if we don’t get ahead of this, this same kind of intervention could take place in 2018 and definitely will take place in 2020."
In the interview with Capital Download, Warner also discussed two crucial Senate Intelligence Committee hearings this week, including testimony Thursday by ousted FBI director James Comey.
The "million-dollar question" for Comey is whether President Trump asked him to back off the investigation into retired general Michael Flynn, a campaign adviser who was forced out as White House national security adviser, Warner aid. And he said similar questions will be posed to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers at Wednesday's hearing.
"My hope is they don't try to hide behind executive privilege or try to say 'this is classified information,'" the senator said of the intelligence chiefs. "The American public deserves to know whether this president tried to interfere or tried to affect their views about this Russia investigation, and one way or another, we're going to get to the bottom of this."
Asked if that sort of interference would amount to an impeachable offense, he replied, "I don't have the slightest idea."
Warner said no topics had been put off limits for Comey, although he doubted the former prosecutor would be willing to discuss the specifics of ongoing investigations. But he does expect Comey to detail what happened in his conversations with Trump about the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling. News reports citing anonymous sources have said the president urged him to back off the Flynn investigation, and Trump himself told NBC's Lester Holt that Russia was on his mind when he then fired Comey.
"Director Comey wants to tell his side of the story," Warner said. "After the way he was treated by this president, after some of the names that this president has besmirched his reputation with, just seems in basic fairness he gets to tell his side of the story to the American public, and I hope he'll be as forthcoming as possible."
Republicans, including committee chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina, have raised questions about why, if the president was trying to squelch the Flynn investigation, Comey didn't tell them or his superiors at the time. "I think that's a valid question to ask," Warner said. "But one of the things I've learned is that there's a wide breadth between what may be factual and what may be criminal."
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