Russian government hackers gave hacked emails from inside the Hillary Clinton campaign to Wikileaks through a third party, according to testimony by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey on Monday morning. But who that third party – referred to in intelligence community terms as a "cut out" — may have been, Comey did not say.
According to testimony by both Comey and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers at the Monday hearing before the House Select Committee on Intelligence the purpose of the Russian hacking operation was to aid the candidacy of Donald Trump, Clinton's opponent, who did eventually win the presidential election.
Wikileaks published thousands of emails from the account of former Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta during the presidential campaign. While Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has denied that the emails were transmitted to Wikileaks by Russian government officials or anyone to do with Russia, Comey's testimony raises the possibility that Wikileaks dealt directly with someone not obviously connected to Russia, thus giving Assange the ability to plausibly deny that his group received the emails via Russia.
"We assess they used some kind of cut-out," Comey testified, when asked about the Russia-Wikileaks connections by HSCI Ranking Democratic member Adam Schiff of California. "They didn't deal directly with WikiLeaks, in contrast to DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0."
Watch the exchange between Comey and Schiff in the following video clip.
#FBI Director Comey: "We assessed they used some kind of cut-out. They didn't deal directly with WikiLeaks." #Russia pic.twitter.com/EHvsiOfYwt"DCLeaks" was a separate website created allegedly by the hackers themselves to disseminate emails hacked and stolen from the Democratic National Committee and published online immediately prior the Democratic convention last July.
— Oscar Paez (@EL10PAEZ) March 20, 2017
"Guccifer 2.0" is the name taken by a hacker or group of hackers that United States intelligence agencies believe were actually Russian government intelligence agents.
However, no members of the committee followed up with Comey on whether or not the FBI has information regarding the identity of the "cut out."
15. @AdamSchiffCA get Comey to admit There was a "cut out" (3rd party) operating between Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks. Who?The hearing began with Schiff summarizing the timeline of how the story of Trump and the Trump campaign's Russian connections unfolded. Schiff's entire summary can be read at this link.
— Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) March 20, 2017
"Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other," Schiff said in his statement.
"That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States."
Schiff also admitted that the extensive links between Trump and Russia could be a "coincidence," but that the circumstantial evidence warranted a full investigation.
"It is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don't know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out," Schiff said at the Monday morning hearing.
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