President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to deliver to him a dossier of the evidence that the Russian government used cyber attacks and other means to intervene in the 2016 election, possibly with the idea of making more information public, a senior intelligence official told NBC News.
White House counterterrorism advisor Lisa Monaco told reporters that the results of the report would be shared with lawmakers and others. Obama leaves office on Jan. 20. Monaco used careful language, calling it a "full review of what happened during the 2016 election process."
But since the U.S. government has already said that all 17 intelligence agencies agree Russia was behind the hacks, Monaco’s meaning was clear. The senior intelligence official who spoke to NBC News added further context.
"We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after-action, to understand what has happened and to impart some lessons learned," Monaco said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Given President-elect Donald Trump’s repeated insistence that he does not believe U.S. Intelligence assessments that Russia interfered in the election, Obama is concerned that Russia will go unpunished for the behavior unless he acts, administration officials have told NBC News.
How strong is the evidence pointing to the Putin government? A senior intelligence official with direct knowledge told NBC News it is "complex but clear."
Another person who has seen the evidence believes it is "enough to get some of the Russians indicted tomorrow."
Sean Kanuck, who was the national intelligence officer for cyber issues with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence until this spring, said that the government had to have been very certain of its evidence to point a finger at Russia.
Said Kanuck, "Having led many of those attribution assessments of prior events for the intelligence community, I'm well aware of the level of research and analysis that goes into those kinds of statements and the level of confidence that would be required before such a national level statement would be made publicly."
But intelligence officials are wary about disclosing information that can show Russia’s involvement, fearful that doing so will compromise sensitive sources and methods.
Republicans in Congress, including Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have indicated they will support efforts by Democrats to investigate the Russian hacks and other interference in the election.
On Thursday, McCain, Graham, Marco Rubio and nine other GOP senators joined 15 Democratic senators in calling on Trump to maintain its support for Ukraine "in the face of Russian aggression."
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was "pleased that the Administration is undertaking a full review of Russian hacking into our elections and democratic institutions. The administration should work to declassify as much of it as possible, while protecting our sources and methods, and make it available to the public."
Schiff added, "After many briefings by our intelligence community, it is clear to me that the Russians hacked our democratic institutions and sought to interfere in our elections and sow discord. In this, tragically, they succeeded. Given President-elect Trump's disturbing refusal to listen to our intelligence community and accept that the hacking was orchestrated by the Kremlin, there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month."
If the U.S. doesn’t respond forcefully, Schiff said, "We can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future."
Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Russia's action were not a surprise to his committee, but the intelligence community had "repeatedly failed to anticipate Putin's hostile actions." He also said the Obama administration had "suddenly awoken to the threat" after eight years.
Sean Kanuck said from his perspective, "what's important ... is the role this administration can play and the intelligence community can play in helping inform and prepare the next national security team."