Democrats press for details on alleged Burisma hack
“We only learned of this hacking through the press,” said a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is a member of the Gang of Eight.
Congress “must be briefed on what the administration knows about this attack and why the president doesn’t have a plan to protect our elections.”
When asked about the incident, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Well, we certainly are concerned about election security. That’s why we appropriated $800 million over the last couple of years to deal with it. … So, we need to keep our eye on the Russians or anybody else trying to mess with our election system and we’re appropriating plenty of money to do just that.”
It’s unclear what the administration actually knew about the alleged hack. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said it had no comment on the report and the FBI also would not comment. The White House did not response to a request for comment.
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO it was strange the Gang of Eight hadn’t been informed.
“Put it this way, far more routine things would be reported weekly to the Congress, either to the Gang of Eight or to the [intelligence] committees,” he said.
It could be some time before they get any answers.
The House is out next week for a holiday break, and McConnell said Tuesday that the chamber would begin its impeachment trial on Jan. 21 — a process that could consume the calendar for weeks.
“I’d like to get” a briefing before the break, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told POLITICO. But, he noted, “It’s not the most cooperative administration.”
Area 1 noted in its report that it’s not unusual for Russia hackers to target an oil and gas company in Ukraine — a country that Russia invaded in 2014 and has subjected to previous cyberattacks.
But the firm said, “It is significant because Burisma Holdings is [publicly] entangled in U.S. foreign and domestic politics,” adding that the timing of the hack “in relation to the 2020 U.S. elections raises the spectre that this is an early warning of what we have anticipated since the successful cyberattacks undertaken during the 2016 U.S. elections.”
Although some experts questioned the technical validity of the Area 1 research, other cybersecurity firms offered conditional support for aspects of its conclusions, namely related to the hacking activity from the Russian group known as Fancy Bear or APT28, which also was widely blamed as the culprit in the 2016 DNC hack.
“While we cannot independently validate all the claims regarding a possible compromise of Burisma, the infrastructure that was detailed in the report is consistent with the operations of APT28,” John Hultquist, senior director of intelligence analysis for FireEye, said in a statement to POLITICO.
In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike said they weren’t surprised by the report on Moscow’s actions.
Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, which Area 1 blamed for the assault on Burisma, “is very good and they have been consistent, they have been very active,” according to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity subpanel.
“The expectation is, is that they are constantly probing and to find that they have been involved with a Ukranian business or something like that simply is not a surprise.”
Rounds said a previously scheduled series of meetings with U.S. Cyber Command, the Defense Department’s top digital warfare organization and others could be an opportunity to hear more on what the administration knew about the Burisma cyberattack.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who sits on the Armed Services and Intelligence panels, told reporters that he didn’t think the apparent breach reflected U.S. election security in any way.
But it did confirm Moscow’s “continuing interest in messing around in our election,” he said.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who expressed surprise Monday night when initial reports of the hack surfaced, said it “certainly looks like” the Russians are “at it again with an eye toward helping this president. We all have to denounce any further meddling in our elections. Americans should decide American elections.“
Tim Starks, Eric Geller, Kyle Cheney and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.