Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey made some major headlines at Monday's first House Intelligence Committee public hearing into the connections between Donald Trump and Russia, perhaps the most startling being Comey's revelation that the FBI is actively investigating Trump and his associates in connection with "the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election."
Comey also made big news by directly contradicting Trump's claim earlier in March that President Barack Obama "wire tapped" Trump's phones in Trump Tower, saying that the FBI "has no information that supports" Trump's claim — for which Trump himself has offered no evidence.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!But Comey's testimony to the committee also contained several startling moments that appear to have slipped under the notice of most major news organizations. Here are five revelations from Monday's hearing into the Trump-Russia scandal that are also worthy of serious attention.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Russian Hackers Targeted Voter Registration RecordsWhile dismissing suggestions that Russian intelligence operatives who hacked into the Democratic National Committee and numerous other institutions had actually penetrated voting machine systems and altered vote totals, Comey said that the Russian cyber-attackers had actually found their way inside voter registration databases in a number of states.
Though Comey didn't specify how many voter registration databases had been infiltrated by the Russian hackers, earlier reports indicated the number could be at least 20.
Why is it important that the hackers got into voter databases? According to investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald, even altering the spelling of a voter's name could strip that voter's eligibility in some states.
Comey: Russians tried 2 penetrate registration rolls. (With "Voter ID" rules as written, they could block voters by change spelling of name)Removing voters from the eligible rolls would, of course, suppress voter turnout, a circumstance that is generally believed to favor Republican candidates.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) March 20, 2017
Russia Used A Third Party "Cut Out" To Send Stolen Emails To WikiLeaks
During the 2016 presidential election campaign, the document-leaking site WikiLeaks published thousands of private emails stolen from Democratic National Committee servers, and from Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, John Podesta. United States intelligence says that those stolen emails were given to WikiLeaks by the Russians, but WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has flatly denied that his source was Russia or any "state party."
But at Monday's hearing, Comey said that Russia used a third party — called a "cut out" in intelligence terminology — to send the material to Wikileaks, as seen in the following video clip from the hearing.
#FBI Director Comey: "We assessed they used some kind of cut-out. They didn't deal directly with WikiLeaks." #Russia pic.twitter.com/EHvsiOfYwtIn other words, Assange could be telling the truth — at least in a strict sense — while still having received the emails indirectly from Russia.
— Oscar Paez (@EL10PAEZ) March 20, 2017
But who would that "cut out" actually be? The answer to that question was not revealed by Comey, but could prove important to unlocking the answers to the Trump-Russia connection.
The Russians Also Hacked Republicans — But Didn't Leak The MaterialRussian hackers did not limit their attacks to Democratic organizations, but also infiltrated Republican organizations as well, according to Comey.
But significantly, the Russian hackers never released any stolen emails or other documents from any Republican organization.
"There were efforts to penetrate organizations associated with the Republican party and that -- I think that is what we said in the report," Comey testified.
"And that there were not releases of material taken -- hacked from any Republican associated organizations."The lack of any leaks from the Republican National Committee or from inside the Trump campaign would appear to lend credence to the fact that, as Comey said, Russian leader Vladimir Putin "hated" Clinton and wanted her to lose the election — while also helping Trump win.
The Russians May Have Wanted the U.S. To Know Who Was Behind The HacksThough the Russian government has repeatedly denied staging the cyber-attack on the U.S. presidential election, according to Comey, the Russians may have actually wanted the U.S. to know that they were behind the hacks — as part of Russian attempts to undermine the faith of American citizens in the electoral process.
"They were unusually loud in their intervention. It's almost as if they didn't care that we knew," Comey told the Intelligence Committee.
"Their loudness, in a way, would be counting on us to amplify it by telling the American people what we saw and freaking people out about how the Russians might be undermining our elections successfully."The Russian hackers left digital evidence that was not difficult to trace back to the Kremlin-run spy organizations, Comey said.
The FBI Did Not Do Enough To Alert The DNC To the Russian Threat
Comey admitted that he and the FBI did not do enough to stop the cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign. If he had taken more steps, the results of the election may have turned out differently.
If he knew in 2015, when the FBI first learned of the cyber-attack, what he knew today, Comey said, he would have taken extraordinary measures to alert the DNC to the danger it faced.
"We'd have sent up a much larger flare. We'd have just kept banging and banging on the door knowing what I know now. We made extensive efforts to notify. I might have walked over there myself knowing what I know now."However, Comey concluded, at the time he believed that the FBI's efforts to alert the DNC to the Russian hacking were "reasonable."
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