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Poll: Utahns back congressional probe of Russian hacking in 2016 election

Published January 25, 2017 11:58 pm

Poll • About 62 percent want a congressional probe of the alleged cyber assault and disinformation campaign.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • The U.S. House and Senate intelligence committees launched investigations Wednesday into Russian attempts to influence the recent presidential election — a move that Utahns support by a nearly 2-1 margin.

About 62 percent of residents want Congress to probe U.S. intelligence findings about the hacking, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. The survey found 35 percent of Utahns opposed an investigation, including 15 percent who "strongly disagree" with any further inquiry on the foreign meddling.

The results come just weeks after the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA released a joint report which concluded that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered a cyber assault and disinformation campaign with a "clear preference" for Donald Trump and an aim to "denigrate" Hillary Clinton. The intelligence community did not indicate what impact that involvement may have had on the election results.

Though Trump discredited the report — initially disputing Russian involvement and later saying it had no effect on the outcome of the tight race — Utah Republican Reps. Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz support an investigation of the hacking, along with other members of Congress from both parties.

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said it's paramount to examine the cyber attacks that "try to break down the trust in that foundation of democracy."

"We owe it to the candidates and we owe it to the next election that we understand this," he said.

Stewart had initially been skeptical that the hacking had a clear motive to influence who won or lost the election, saying in December there "just isn't any CIA analysis to draw the conclusion." After the release of the intelligence report early the following month, Stewart walked back the comments and indicated he may not have been given all of the available information.

"The only thing I can do is rely on intelligence analysis," he explained Monday. "I can't make those kinds of analysis myself. And when they tell me 'A' on Dec. 5, I'm going to believe that. And then when they tell me 'B' starting several days later, I have no choice but to accept that as well."

The congressman has acknowledged and warned of Russian hacking for some time. After a trip to the country in August, he said he firmly believed "they're going to screw around with our elections … it's just a very logical conclusion that anyone would reach if you looked at their history and this upcoming election."

A former U.S. Air Force pilot, Stewart had been briefed on intelligence findings in December that initially connected the Russian government with the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and others.

He said his committee began to hold hearings on the issue in September and October before the election.

"We all feel as strongly as anyone that we want to understand what happened here and to try to preclude it from happening again," Stewart added.

The House Intelligence Committee investigation will examine Russian hacking and other "active measures," links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, U.S. response to Russian activity and possible leaks of classified information related to the recent intelligence findings.

Chairman of the Utah Democratic Party Peter Corroon says Congress has been "a little bit reticent" with its investigation. When the group looks into the hacking, he believes, it could expose potentially unflattering information about Trump.

"Once you pull back the curtain, they may find out new things about our new president," Corroon said.

He supports strong sanctions against Russia to deter future meddling — something former President Barack Obama did in his final days in office, expelling some Russian diplomats from the United States and shuttering two Russian facilities on American soil. It is unclear whether sanctions will remain under the new administration. Trump vowed during his campaign to improve U.S. relations with the country.

"Our whole democracy is on the line if we have foreign governments influencing our elections, which is obviously what Russia was trying to do in this last case," Corroon said. "I don't think you need to be a brain surgeon to figure out they were trying to disrupt our election."

Chaffetz suggests the onus for the cyber meddling actually falls on Obama, who he believes acted too late and failed to prevent the hacks. "It begs the question what did President Obama do and why didn't he do something about it?"

As chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Chaffetz led an investigation into the 2015 hack of the Office of Personnel Management, also believed to be carried out by a foreign agent, when the personal information of former and current federal employees was breached.

He suggests other government entities may be susceptible to attacks, too.

"We also are very concerned about the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration and others. We believe there's huge, huge vulnerabilities there," Chaffetz said, later adding: "You still have major government agencies that have no encryption, they don't have dual authentication. They're pathetic quite frankly."

As for the 2017 election, the congressman says there is no evidence to suggest any manipulation of votes or polling locations, though Trump has said as many as five million ballots were illegally cast, costing him the popular vote. There is no data that supports the claim.

Chaffetz, instead, said threats from hackers attempting to infiltrate American financial systems are "rampant."

"Hacking is going on 24/7," he said. "Let's not be naive about that."

The poll among 605 registered Utah voters was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates from Jan. 9-16. It has a margin of error of 3.98 percent.


Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner






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