The White House reportedly tried to stop the publication of a controversial statement, made by two top congress intelligence officials which publicly accused Russia of orchestrating numerous cyberattacks on US political groups to influence the presidential elections.
In a joint statement released on 22 September, senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee and congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, directly called on Vladimir Putin to put an end to the hacking.
The statement resonated in the intelligence community as it was the first major accusation directed towards the Kremlin. Despite the positive attribution by US cybersecurity firms, White House officials and the Obama Administration have remained reluctant to link recent cyberattacks to the Russian state.
However, as the two intelligence officials were preparing to release their remarks, the White House staffers were hard at work trying to delay and halt the statement's release, according to Buzzfeed News which cited sources "familiar with the matter."
The unnamed insiders, who remain anonymous at the time of writing, said the White House convinced Feinstein and Schiff to remove part of their original remarks for "security reasons." After numerous requests urging a delay, the lawmakers decided to publish regardless.
"You can't have the White House telling a legislative body how to operate," one of the sources told Buzzfeed News. "We thought it was important." The Obama Administration has declined to comment, however the US president has made slight indications of Russian involvement in the past.
When asked, Feinstein said she stood by the release of the statement – which said that after briefings the intelligence committee chiefs concluded that "Russian intelligence agencies" were making a "serious and concerted effort to influence the US election."
It continued: "At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election and may well be intended to influence the outcomes of the election – we can see no other rationale for the behaviour of the Russians.
"We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government. We call on President Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity. Americans will not stand for any foreign government trying to influence our election."
The 2016 presidential campaign in the US, set to take place on 8 November, has suffered a number of widespread hacks and leaks since July when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) were both hacked.
The cybercriminals responsible are believed to have links to Russian intelligence and one of the groups – dubbed Fancy Bear – is suspected of hacking numerous targets including the World Anti-Doping Agency. For their part, both Kremlin officials and Vladimir Putin have denied involvement.
As time goes on, and as the election quickly approaches, US officials are becoming more outspoken on the notion of Russian involvement. "There is a tradition in Russia of trying to interfere in elections, their own and others," James Clapper, the director of US national intelligence said in a recent interview. "It shouldn't come as a big shock to people. I think it's more dramatic now because now they have cyber tools."