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Story highlights

The FBI is investigating a possible hack of Democratic Party staffer cell phones

Johnson told Congress that 18 states have asked for help defending against cyberattacks

(CNN) —  

The FBI has asked to examine the cell phones of a small number Democratic Party staffers as it investigates a possible hack, law enforcement and Democratic sources told CNN Tuesday.

The development comes on the same day Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told lawmakers that 18 states have asked for help in warding off cyberattacks on their electronic voting systems.

Law enforcement officials have reached out to the staffers individually about “imaging” their phones to search for evidence of hacking, such as malware. Investigators are still probing whether this attempted hack is part of the original breach of Democratic National Committee emails – which is widely thought to be the work of the Russian government – or a new hacking attempt.

“Our struggle with the Russian hackers that we announced in June is ongoing – as we knew it would be – and we are choosing not to provide general updates unless personal data or other sensitive information has been accessed or stolen,” interim DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile told CNN.

Meanwhile, Johnson outlined to the Senate Homeland Security Committee the concerns states had about defending their voting systems from hackers.

“We are seeing a limited number of instances where there have been efforts through cyberintrusions to get into the online presence of various state election agencies,” Johnson said.

Law enforcement and election officials said in August that hackers had breached databases for election systems in Arizona and Illinois.

“What we are seeing are efforts to get into voter registration rolls, the identity of registered voters,” Johnson added.

While Johnson would not say who was behind the latest hacks, their reveal comes less than a week after the top Democrats on Congress’ intelligence committees blamed Russian intelligence agencies for a series of hacks designed to influence the US presidential election.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking members on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, respectively, released a joint statement Thursday blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government for the cyberintrusions.

“Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election,” they wrote.

Russia’s suspected role in efforts to hack systems relating to US elections was a major theme in Monday’s debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Clinton also faulted the Russians for the election-related cyberintrusions while Trump said “it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Asked about the latest hacking reports, Schiff told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Tuesday that it was “very serious business,” adding that, “Unfortunately, I think we are going to see more of it.”

Schiff called Trump’s refusal to blame the Russians for the cyberintrusions “troubling,” saying Trump “has essentially become an apologist for the Kremlin.”

“My guess, Wolf, is if this guy weighs 400 pounds, he is sitting somewhere in Russia right now,” Schiff added.

Asked in July whether Russia was trying to use cyberattacks to influence US elections, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Russia believes it is reacting to what it sees as US attempts to destabilize Russia.

“Try to look at things from their vantage, I think. They are paranoid,” he told an audience at the Aspen forum.

“They believe that we are trying to influence political developments in Russia and trying to effect change and so their natural response is to retaliate and do unto us as they think we have done unto them,” Clapper added.