Congress must get to the bottom of creepy email hack

Cybersecurity analysts say the hack of DNC emails has the markings of Russian military intelligence, controlled by President Vladimir Putin, shown here.
Cybersecurity analysts say the hack of DNC emails has the markings of Russian military intelligence, controlled by President Vladimir Putin, shown here. AP

The possibility that Russians hacked thousands of Democratic National Committee emails and leaked them to Wikileaks should alarm all Americans, no matter their political persuasion.

In the middle of the presidential campaign, the implications of the hack and leak are easy to dismiss as just so much political grist. The emails don’t show illegality by Democrats. They are at most embarrassing, showing that the DNC sided with Clinton's campaign during the primaries while claiming to be neutral.

But it’s beyond creepy that a major political party might have been the target of a state-sponsored cyber break-in. That’s a crime. If Russia was involved, Vladimir Putin is attempting to undermine our democracy, and tamper with the presidential election.

That would be at least as serious as if third-rate burglars had picked a lock in the dead of night and stole papers from the Democratic National Committee, probably more so. The FBI is taking it seriously. Congress ought to do the same.

As happened with a rather famous break-in back in 1972, The Washington Post broke the story, disclosing that the FBI is looking into whether Russian military intelligence agencies FSB and GRU carried out the attack and passed the emails to Wikileaks, which in turn made them public.

“Russia has the most incentive to do it,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told an editorial board member at the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia where the California delegation is staying.

The emails surfaced on Friday as the Democratic National Convention was about to open in Philadelphia. Reporters, operatives and amateur sleuths used Wikileaks’ search function to find details of Democratic fundraising and the party’s inner workings.

If the goal was to anger Bernie Sanders’ backers and further damage Hillary Clinton, the hack and leak were a success.

Sanders’ partisans said the emails prove that the Democratic Party favored Clinton during the primary. Under pressure, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida resigned as Democratic National Committee chair.

“Russia has the means,” Schiff said. “They have the motive to do this, and they have a history of this kind of malicious hacking into the political processes of their adversaries.”

Schiff, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, called Donald Trump the “dream candidate” for Putin. Trump has said he admires the Russian strongman, and recklessly questioned America’s role in NATO, the main defense against Russian aggression.

Trump has tied the defense of small Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, each of them loyal U.S. allies, to their ability to pay for their defense. Clinton is a defender of NATO.

Conservative writer and commentator William Kristol, no fan of Clinton, detailed numerous troubling aspects of Trump’s relationships with Russia, including Trump’s business dealings there.

Trump’s campaign strategist, Paul Manafort, advised Putin-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovich, and other advisers have made excuses for Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, Kristol wrote in the Weekly Standard.

Kristol called on Trump and Manafort to release their tax returns, to show the extent of their business dealings in Russia. We agree, as should all voters.

But more must be done. Congressional Republicans and Democrats should take seriously the possibility that a foreign nation is trying to shape our election, and fully investigate. Congress has spent time investigating transgressions that have far less serious implications.