The House Intelligence Committee is nearing an agreement with the nation’s intelligence agencies for full access to the information that underlay the recent classified report on Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s presidential election.
Among the information the committee hopes to gain access to is any evidence that implicates Russian President Vladimir Putin in ordering the hacks of Democratic National Committee computers and the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
In a report delivered Jan. 6 to then-President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency said Putin had personally ordered the hacks as part of an effort to damage Clinton’s presidential campaign. During the course of the campaign, the agencies concluded, Putin’s emphasis changed to helping Trump win election.
The report also said Russian military intelligence had passed the materials pirated from the Democratic computer systems to WikiLeaks, something WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied.
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How the intelligence agencies reached those conclusions was not spelled out in an unclassified version of the report that was made public by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But the evidence undergirding the conclusions was provided in detail, according to news reports, in a longer, classified version. That evidence reportedly included eavesdropped conversations capturing Russian officials celebrating Trump’s victory on election night.
Having access to that information will allow the House of Representatives committee to offer a more authoritative version of events. Under the agreement, however, none of the intelligence information will be made public.
Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs the Intelligence Committee, said the agreement was specific to the January report and dictated who would have access to the secret information. Nunes said the committee was seeking additional information but had yet to reach an agreement on that material.
“We’ve sent a series of other questions and letters to DNI, FBI and other agencies to ask for additional evidence that we are still awaiting,” he said.
Nunes and the senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, agreed that reaching an accord for access to the still-secret information would mark the beginning of the committee’s investigation, one of two being undertaken in Congress into allegations of Russian meddling. The other is being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Until he was briefed on the report, Trump had refused to accept the intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russians had hacked the Democratic computers.
The first obstacle we met was the director of the FBI’s unwillingness to answer all of our questions.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections
Since the release of the January report, the House investigation has expanded beyond the computer hacks to alleged Russian use of fake news and social media to try to discredit Clinton, and, in the past few days, to Trump’s claims that Obama had ordered Trump’s phones tapped in the waning days of the campaign.
The House investigation is also expected to examine what evidence backs a salacious “dossier” of anti-Trump information gathered by a former British spy on behalf of Trump opponents. The dossier, which was published in full by the website BuzzFeed, contained allegations that the Russians had gathered compromising information about Trump that might make him susceptible to blackmail.
The only witness that the committee is known to have interviewed to date is FBI Director James Comey, a session that apparently did not go well.
In comments this week, Schiff suggested Comey had been less than forthcoming in his answers. “The first obstacle we met was the director of the FBI’s unwillingness to answer all of our questions,” he said.
The committee has asked Comey to return to give public testimony on March 20, the first public meeting the committee will hold on the Russian meddling.