U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and other congressional Democrats are asking the FBI to investigate concerns that the Russian government may be attempting to undermine the U.S. presidential election through cyberattacks.
"The prospect of a hostile government actively seeking to undermine our free and fair elections represents one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War," Reid said in a letter to FBI Director James Comey published by The New York Times on August 30 after revelations that the FBI found state online voting systems were hacked, possibly by Russia.
Reid said the threat of Russian government tampering in the election was "more extensive than widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results."
He also voiced concerns about possible Russian government efforts to manipulate Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign ahead of the November 8 election and to use it as a vehicle to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A letter from four other Democrats on August 30 asked Comey to assess whether campaign officials working for Trump may be colluding with Russian interests to carry out recent hacks against the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and "interfere with the U.S. presidential election."
That letter, which notes connections between Russia and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, was signed by Representatives Elijah Cummings, John Conyers, Elliot Engel, and Bennie Thompson, each of whom serves as the top Democrat on a House committee. Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The outpouring of congressional concern follows a spate of hacking attacks targeting U.S. political databases, including some that U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have blamed on hackers working for the Russian government. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.
The FBI this month sent out an alert to U.S. states about the potential for intrusion in their online voting systems after it found breaches in voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona. It did not specify who was behind the breaches, but Russia was fingered as a suspect in many media reports.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on August 30 that such reports were "absolutely unfounded" and "unsubstantiated" and that "as a whole, we don't consider it necessary to pay attention to this in any way."
Comey, speaking at a cybersecurity conference on August 30, said the agency has been vigorously investigating alleged cyber intrusions by Russia, China, and other countries.
"We take very seriously any effort by any actor...especially nation states, that moves beyond the collection of information...and offers the prospect of an effort to influence the conduct of affairs in our country, whether that is an election or something else," he said.
With reporting by AP and Reuters