U.S. Sen. Angus King told federal intelligence officials at a congressional hearing Thursday looking into allegations of Russian interference with this year’s presidential election that “people in Maine are skeptical” about the charges.

Though the independent senator from Maine has expressed few doubts about the role played by Russia in hacking Democratic computers and spreading disinformation, he acknowledged at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that his constituents want someone to “prove it” before they’ll accept what federal intelligence agencies have concluded.
King asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, whether he still had “high confidence” that the Russians were involved at the highest level and intended to interfere with the American election.
Clapper responded that “if anything, what we have since learned just reinforces” the judgment he issued in an Oct. 7 statement outlining his concerns about Russia’s role.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republicans’ unsuccessful 2008 presidential candidate and committee chairman, questioned whether Russia’s interference constituted an act of war.
“Whether that constitutes an act of war is a very heavy call that I don’t think the intelligence community should make,” Clapper responded.
When King wondered if there was any concrete information Clapper could release, the longtime intelligence expert said though he would like to be “forthcoming and transparent” about what he knows, he can’t justify releasing details.
Clapper said the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars and put many lives at risk to develop an infrastructure that can glean information from foreign countries.
He said if he exposed details, America “can just kiss that off” because it would all become useless overnight as other countries took steps to protect their data better.
The reality, Clapper said, is that he must “protect very fragile sources and methods.”
King said at the hearing he has heard from officials in Europe, and in the Baltic states in particular, about how Russia has used hacking and propaganda to try to make political inroads.
In fact, King said, he was just told that the Russians were buying commercial television stations in Western Europe and that they may be funding a French presidential candidate’s campaign.
Clapper said the Russians have “a long history” of interfering in elections in other lands, but the United States has also done the same.
The difference this time, he said, is that he’s never encountered such “an aggressive and direct” effort to impact an American election.
King said that Baltic leaders told him the best defense against Russian tactics is simply for people to recognize what’s happening and discount the propaganda accordingly. If the public takes it with a grain of salt, he said, the situation would improve.
Clapper said he absolutely agrees.
In fact, he said, that’s why he issued a public statement on the issue a month before the U.S. election.
King has said he finds it “unacceptable to allow a foreign government to interfere in the American electoral process and wants to make sure Congress does what it can to prevent it from happening again.
“For me, this is not about the last election. This is about the next election – and it’s about protecting and preserving the integrity of American democracy,” King said.

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