Congressman Adam Schiff Talks to ATTN: About Russian Hacking

January 9th 2017

Mike Rothschild

U.S. intelligence agencies last week released a public report detailing how their counterparts in Russia sought to swing the 2016 election to President-elect Donald Trump by way of partisan hacks and selective leaks.

To help make sense of the report, ATTN: spoke to Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

What do U.S. citizens need to know about the Russian hacks?

This is not an effort to relitigate the election. Donald Trump won the election. But we do have to a have a full appreciation of what happened in order to prevent Russia from interfering in not only our political affairs but those of our allies in Europe. This is a threat to liberal democracy around the world. The Russians don't just engage in the hacking and dumping of documents. They also forge documents, bribe lawmakers, use extortion and blackmail, and disseminate information on their slick propaganda platforms.

The public report is 25 pages. What is the two-sentence thing people can get out of it?

The two-sentence thing is that the Russians, under the specific influence of Vladimir Putin, decided not only to steal data, but to dump it in a way that influenced our election. They hoped to tear down Secretary Clinton and help Donald Trump. And they were very successful. We'll never know whether it had a decisive impact, but it was a very successful "active measures" campaign.

President-elect Trump claimed that whoever hacked the DNC [Democratic National Committee] server also tried to hack the RNC server, but failed. The report says the RNC was hacked, but that whoever has the material hasn't released it yet. Which is true?

What the report says is accurate, which is that the Russians hacked both Democratic and Republican institutions. The Russians are some of the most capable cyber-actors in the world, and if they want to get into an organization, they can do it. But they only weaponized data that came from Democrats. We also saw that with the hack of the DCCC, which is the organ that helps Democratic congressional candidates.

So you believe the Russians have RNC emails?

I can't go into specifics that the report doesn't go into, but although the Trump campaign likes to claim that the Republican National Committee was better protected, I don't think that's true. I think the Russians had a lot less interest in disclosing damaging information about Republicans.

Trump has also claimed to "know things that other people don't" about the hacking. What is he talking about?

I have to guess that he's making a statement off the cuff. In fact, he said he was going to reveal these things last week — then, of course, never did.

Why do you think Trump is so intent on not only disagreeing with U.S. intelligence services, but openly mocking them?

I think he can't accept that the Russian hacking operation was designed to help him, so he has to say not only that it never happened, but that the intelligence agencies don't know what they're talking about. What I think he doesn't realize is that all this seriously erodes any credibility he has. It undermines his relationship with the intelligence community, but also with the country.

It could also be that there's more at stake here that we don't know about. There might also be financial drivers at play with his Russia policy. That's why we have to get to the bottom of his conflicts of interest.

What questions are you still asking?

There's a lot still to be fleshed out, which will be the work of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate. I'd like to see us work together, not only as Democrats and Republicans, but doing joint hearings, like after 9/11. Putin is trying to discredit the very idea of democracy, and we have a responsibility to make sure he's not successful.

What can we do to prevent this from happening again?

It starts with establishing a strong deterrent. What the Obama administration did by leveling sanctions against the responsible intelligence agencies is a good first step, but I support John McCain's effort to impose broader sanctions. And we have to develop a comprehensive pushback against each instrument Russia used. 

We need to make sure we have as thorough, objective, and nonpartisan an investigation as we can. I think Russia is a significant threat to our way of life, and we have to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.