The White House is trying to build a legal case against Russian hackers it believes are behind recent leaks aimed at disrupting the U.S. presidential election, while Congress is eyeing sanctions as a remedy, media reports says.
Reuters reported on September 15 that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to put together enough evidence to indict some of the Russian hackers, but doing this has proved difficult as some of the best evidence the administration has is highly classified.
U.S. State Department officials think legal action is the best way to respond to what they believe are increasing Russian attempts to disrupt and discredit the November elections, without sparking an open confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Reuters said.
Reuters said the administration believes that two Russian intelligence agencies -- the military's GRU and the civilian intelligence agency -- are behind recent cyberattacks, which have become more frequent and brazen.
Though the Kremlin vehemently denies it, some officials believe the Russian government has set up a competition between its military and civilian intelligence agencies to see which can steal and distribute the most damaging material.
With hacking targets as diverse and the Democratic National Committee and former top Republican diplomats, U.S. officials have come to the conclusion that Russia's goal is not simply to promote one candidate over another but to discredit the elections and democracy as it is practiced in the United States, Reuters said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the administration faces a difficult task formulating an appropriate response to Russian hacking.
"We're in unexplored territory here, and the president is quite interested in trying to establish international norms," he said.
The U.S. Justice Department has previously filed legal cases against Chinese hackers who compromised U.S. government and corporate systems, and would like to take the same approach to Russia.
"I'll let the FBI speak to what evidence they have amassed," Earnest said, "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."
While the White House pursues legal avenues, The Washington Post reports that members of Congress are eyeing additional sanctions as the best option for dealing with Russia.
The top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees are working on a response to Russia that might include sanctions, the newspaper reported.
Representative Adam Schiff said President Barack Obama needs to start "naming and shaming" Russia.
"There’s now an executive order that allows the president to administer sanctions as a result of cyber intrusions," Schiff told reporters, noting that if Russia persisted in breaching U.S. political groups, Obama ought "to look at a series of escalating responses, which might begin with economic sanctions."
With reporting by Reuters, NBC, and The Washington Post