Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, left, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., right, listen as Clint Watts, center, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Program on National Security, testifies Thursday, March 30, 2017, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Russian intelligence activities. Lawmakers heading the Senate Intelligence Committee focused squarely on Russia as they opened the hearing Thursday on attempts at undermining the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
It’s possible that Russian hackers who allegedly accessed a vast trove of material from Democratic computers during the presidential campaign may have held back some of the juiciest stuff they found on Hillary Clinton.
“The indications thus far are that the Russians had a lot of additional material on Hillary Clinton that they didn’t use,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“They were planning to use it to destabilize her presidency” if she won, King told a crowd Wednesday at Colby College.
The revelation that the Russian operatives may have collected more information than they have so far released appears to be something new in a saga that’s been unfolding for months.
King, a first-term senator seeking reelection in 2018, made the comments during a question and answer session following his speech for the annual George J. Mitchell Distinguished International Lecture in Lorimer Chapel. Colby livestreamed the talk.
Since King has access to classified information and is one of 15 senators actively involved in the investigation into what Russia was doing during the campaign, he may well have an inside track on what intelligence experts have discovered. He could not be reached Thursday to elaborate on his comments.
Clinton said this month during the Women in the World conference in New York City that she believes Russia’s “weaponization of information” contributed to her defeat in the presidential race against Republican Donald Trump.
“I didn’t fully understand how impactful that was,” The New York Times quoted Clinton as saying. She blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering Russian hackers to steal emails from the accounts of Democratic Party leaders.
Though much of what happened remains shrouded in secrecy — including the Senate intelligence panel’s ongoing probe into it — officials have spoken in broad terms about what they believe occurred.
In a report issued in January, U.S. intelligence agencies said the Russians “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s chances of victory when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably” to Trump.
“When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the presidency the Russian influence campaign focused more on undercutting Secretary Clinton’s legitimacy and crippling her presidency from its start, including by impugning the fairness of the election,” it said.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told a congressional hearing that the Russian initiative hacked Democratic emails and then publicized them through Wikileaks while simultaneously using social media in a wide-ranging effort to spread “fake news” that boosted Trump’s chances.
King has frequently said the Russians have long used the same sort of techniques to try to influence events in eastern Europe and the Baltic States. What’s new, he said, is their effort to shape an American election and undermine Americans’ faith in the democratic system the United States has championed since its inception.
King told the audience at Colby that the power of the hackers “is really scary” given the many options they have for monkeying with computers in the U.S. and elsewhere.
For instance, he said, “not only can they get things off” someone’s computer, they could also log onto it and actually download something such as child pornography. King said the hackers could put somebody in the cross hairs of law enforcement if they chose to take that route.
During the campaign last year, the hacking came to the forefront as a hot issue when Wikileaks released almost 20,000 emails shortly before the Democratic National Convention in July that were snatched off party leaders’ accounts earlier in the year.
In October, WikiLeaks started releasing another batch of stolen emails, this time from Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, something it continued to do until Election Day.
There has been no public indication of what material the Russians might have withheld about Clinton.