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A top intelligence official said Tuesday that the U.S. is "probably not doing enough" to combat Russian attempts to interfere in American elections — prompting the fury of several Democratic lawmakers — and acknowledged that he'd not been directed by President Donald Trump to do more to stop such meddling by Moscow.
At a U.S. Cyber Command hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, said he had not been given the authority by Trump, or Defense Secretary James Mattis, his direct boss, to strike at Russian cyberoperations against the U.S.
Rogers admitted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had likely concluded there was "little price" to pay for trying to disrupt U.S. elections.
Democrats slammed Rogers’ assessment, imploring him to do more and ripping into the White House for not having directed a stronger countereffort against the cyber-meddling.
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"The notion they came after this, brazenly, and that nobody can sit in that chair and say, 'We got this … the notion you have not been given this mission to stop this from happening this year, is outrageous," said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
McCaskill also asked whether the U.S. was "strong enough" and "smart enough" to prevent Russia from "doing this again."
Rogers replied, "We're taking steps but we're probably not doing enough," prompting another furious response from McCaskill.
"I want to know, why the hell not?" she said. "What's it going to take?"
The tense hearing came just two weeks after special counsel Robert Mueller announced that 13 Russian nationals had been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of interfering in the 2016 presidential election — including on charges that they supported Trump's campaign with elaborate online and social media tactics.
The indictments — part of Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian interference — were the first tied directly to Russian meddling in the race for the White House and the clearest evidence yet of Moscow's attempts to influence the election.
Meanwhile, earlier at Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., asked Rogers whether he'd been "directed" to disrupt "Russian election hacking operation where they originate."
"No, I have not," Rogers responded, adding later that it "is probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing."
During another strained exchange, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Rogers said he believed that Putin had come to the conclusion "there's little price" to pay for Russia’s meddling efforts and that he was was likely to continue the efforts.
"What I see on the cybercommand side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here that this is going to continue and 2016 won't be viewed as isolated,” Rogers said. "This is something that will be sustained over time."
Later Tuesday, the White House, responding to Rogers' assertion that Trump has not directed him to combat Russian meddling, said the administration didn't stop him from doing anything, either.
"Nobody is denying him the authority," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.