The Federal Bureau of Investigation is intensifying efforts to find enough evidence to enable the Justice Department to indict some of the Russians that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded are hacking into American political parties and figures, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials said on Thursday. Building legal cases is difficult, largely because the best evidence against foreign hackers is often highly classified, they said. Still, some White House and State Department officials think legal action is the best way to respond to what they said are growing Russian attempts to disrupt and discredit the November elections, without sparking an open confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Doing nothing is not an option, because that would telegraph weakness and just encourage the Russians to do more meddling, but retaliating in kind carries substantial risks,” said one U.S. official involved in the administration’s deliberations. Russia has denied it sponsors or encourages any hacking activity.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Thursday that the White House acknowledged formulating an appropriate response was complex, and the FBI faced a difficult task.
“We’re in unexplored territory here, and the president is quite interested in trying to establish international norms,” said Earnest. “I’ll let the FBI speak to what evidence they have amassed, but I think they’re also cognizant of the fact that as soon as they make a declaration like that, most people are going to understandably be interested in seeing that evidence. And some of that evidence may not be something we want to show.”
The Obama administration’s response so far to actions it has attributed to Russia has not satisfied lawmakers from either major party.