Top intelligence officials stop short of providing evidence of Russian hacking at Senate hearing

JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation’s top intelligence officials appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, just days after the release of a report on the alleged role of Russian influence during the 2016 election and intrusion into both Democratic and Republican networks.

Margaret Warner reports.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-Va.): Now, in any of your careers, have you ever seen this level of Russian interference in our political process? And we will start with Director Comey, and just go down the line.

JAMES COMEY, Director, FBI: No.

MAN: I have not.

MAN: No.

MAN: No.

MARGARET WARNER: It was a unified response from America’s top intelligence officers in their first public appearance since releasing an unclassified report describing a coordinated Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

The report released Friday determined with — quote — “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of American political organizations, focused on Democrats, that it was designed to aid president-elect Donald Trump and discredit his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and that stolen information was then delivered to WikiLeaks, and other groups, which published it online.

The report stopped short of providing the evidence underlying those judgments. That remained the case today, with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saying, to disclose more would jeopardize sources.

JAMES CLAPPER, Director of National Intelligence: We are very dependent on — given the nature of intelligence work to start with you, very dependent on you, as our overseers, to look at that yourselves on behalf of the electorate.

MARGARET WARNER: Committee chair, Senator Richard Burr, also said he would investigate leaks to the media about the report in advance of its release.

FBI Director James Comey declined to say if there is an investigation into whether the Russian government communicated with anyone in the Trump team. That raised eyebrows with some members.

JAMES COMEY: In a public forum, we never confirm or deny a pending investigation.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-Maine): The irony of your making that statement here, I cannot avoid, but I will move on.

JAMES COMEY: Well, we sometimes think differently about closed investigations.

But you asked me if I had any pending investigations, and we’re not going to talk about that.

MARGARET WARNER: That was a veiled reference to Comey’s decision to speak publicly before the election about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Also at question, whether the hacks altered the outcome of the election. The Trump team has characterized the report as saying the hacking had no effect on the election results. But, in fact, the report explicitly said it made no judgment on that. It did say there is no evidence that voting machinery or counting was affected.

CIA Director John Brennan also said he had recently discussed the hacking with his Russian counterpart.

JOHN BRENNAN, Director, CIA: And told him clearly that if Russia was doing this, they’re playing with fire. He denied any type of activity along these lines, but I made it very clear to him that, basically, we’re onto them.

MARGARET WARNER: Separately, a group of 10 senators from both parties introduced legislation seeking to broaden sanctions on Russia.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner.