Official: Probe 'solely about lessons learned' on foreign hacking

(CNN)The review by the Intelligence Community into election tampering is not an effort to leave evidence for the next administration about Russia, a senior administration official tells CNN, but rather to learn about the experiences of past elections to allow future administrations to better combat malign influence.

"This is not going on to stop the Trump transition from preemptively rebutting the case we are going to make. This (is) about what we have learned from experience and help others to put that knowledge to work," the official said.
The review, which the Obama Administration announced Friday was being undertaken, is also not examining whether Russian interference in the 2016 election helped to affect the outcome, the official said.
"This report is not going to look at the result of 2016 and examine if voters were swayed. This is solely about lessons learned about foreign actors interfering, how they did it, what their techniques and procedures were and how the US government can mitigate future attempts," the official said. "The intelligence community concluded with a high confidence that Russia was interfering in the election."
The review is intended to be done before Donald Trump's inauguration January 20 White House Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco said Friday.
In response to the news, the Russian government called for evidence of its involvement, denying claims made by the US.
"We are also very interested in understanding what they accused Russia of," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. "Many times the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Minister Lavrov have asked Americans to provide full information. But never had any response."
The US government before the election publicly blamed senior levels of the Russian government for cyberattacks designed to influence the outcome, including hacks of Democratic groups like the Democratic National Committee.
A steady stream of documents and internal emails from Democratic groups and from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman were hacked and released in the weeks and months leading up to the election, with damaging consequences for Democrats.
There was also concern about attempted attacks on voter registration systems at the state and local level, though the intelligence community never said there was strong evidence that was tied to the Russian government. Voter registration databases are attractive targets for financially motivated hackers, as well.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation into Russia's hacking said last week the US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the US election was intended to steer the election toward Trump, rather than simply to undermine or in other ways disrupt the political process. The sources say there is some new information but would not specify due to the classified nature of the intelligence.
This official said that punitive measures against Russia being considered by the administration are being done on a parallel track and "are not tied to the investigation."
"We already know very clearly that Russia was behind this malicious activity in an attempt to interfere in our election. The high confidence of the intelligence community was already born out of multiple sources of intelligence," the official said.
Sanctions have been prepared as "one of a range of possible responses" against Russia in retaliation, should Obama order them before leaving office, several administration officials said.
"It is fair to say of course we have been thinking about this for some time and options have been prepared," one of the officials said, adding "nothing has been decided."
The officials declined to say what other options are being readied because of the sensitivity of the matter, but officials have previously said that a cyber response, which could be covert, was also on the table.
Trump, who has cast doubt on Russian involvement in hacking the DNC and other political groups, has promised to overturn many of Obama's executive orders once he takes office -- and could quickly reverse measures against Russia.
However, he would likely face heat from both parties in Congress, particularly Republicans who have been skeptical of Russia and are calling for their own investigation.
If the investigation was made public, however, it would give weight to US intelligence assessment that Russia was behind the hacking and would make it much more difficult politically for Donald Trump to overturn any measures the Obama administration takes before leaving office. He would likely face heat from both parties in Congress, particularly Republicans who have been skeptical of Russia and are calling for their own investigation.
"There would be a price to pay," another senior official said. "It would be difficult to reverse something based on cause. How does an incoming administration do that and say it was not politicized?"