Hillary Clinton may not have been the only Trump opponent who came into the sights of Russian hackers during the 2016 election. According to testimony in a Senate hearing today, so did one of President Trump’s Republican primary adversaries: Senator Marco Rubio.
In a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio revealed for the first time that his campaign staffers were also targeted by hackers seemingly based in Russia. Those repeated attempts at intrusion, according to Rubio, came after he dropped out of the primary, and were unsuccessful. He added that in just the last 48 hours, those apparent Russian attacks had targeted his staffers again.
“In July 2016, shortly after I announced I’d seek re-election to the US senate, former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia. That effort was unsuccessful,” Rubio told the hearing. “I do think it’s appropriate to divulge this to the committee, since a lot of this has taken a partisan tone.”
Rubio went on to add that at 10:45am yesterday, a second attempt was made to target his staffers, also seemingly originating in Russia, also without apparent success.
The intention of the attacks Rubio describes is far from clear. Both attempted intrusions would have come months after Rubio dropped out of the presidential campaign in March of 2016. But testimony at another hearing earlier in the day also suggested that Rubio was also a target of Russian disinformation before he quit the race for president.
“Russia’s overt media outlets sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you suffered through these efforts.” Watts didn’t elaborate on that claim, and Rubio declined to comment on Watts’ testimony in the second hearing.
A US senators’ staff makes a natural target for Russian hackers, especially given the breadth of previous Russian intrusions that have hit all parts of the federal government, ranging from the Department of Defense to the State Department to the White House. Later in Thursday’s hearing, both Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich and Republican Senator John Cornyn said they’d also been targeted with phishing emails and attempted password resets on their accounts.
“I would expect that nearly all of you are targeted on a near-daily basis,” Kevin Mandia, the CEO of security firm FireEye, told the Senate committee.
Rubio’s reminder of the bipartisan nature of Russian hacking comes as a parallel House of Representatives investigation into Russian meddling in the US election has reached a new frenzy of partisan bickering. In its own hearing last week, House Republicans asked almost no questions about the intentions or methodology of Russian hackers or their possible connections to the Trump campaign. Instead, they focused on how hints of those connections had leaked to the press. House Intelligence Committee Republican Chair Devin Nunes later held a press conference focused on the surveillance of the Trump campaign—which Trump has referred to as illegal wiretapping—and briefed Trump himself on the matter without consulting the rest of the committee. He then cancelled a previously scheduled open hearings related to Russian collusion. (The New York Times reported Thursday that Nunes’ information on how Trump’s staffers were swept up in routine foreign surveillance was actually given to him by White House officials.)
I would expect that nearly all of you are targeted on a near-daily basis. FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia
The Senate, for its part, has vowed to run a more focused and objective inquiry. “This investigation’s scope will go wherever the intelligence leads,” Senate intelligence committee Republican chair Richard Burr said in a press conference Wednesday.
The FBI also continues to conduct its own investigation, which includes an active probe into whether members of Trump’s campaign staff colluded with Russia operatives to sabotage the Clinton campaign. FBI Director James Comey has remained tightlipped about details though, declining to answer dozens of questions from Congress about the investigation as he testified at last week’s hearing.
Rubio’s remarks on his targeting by apparently Russian hackers isn’t his first call for a unified response to those intrusions. In October of last year, he warned his fellow Republicans of the dangers of trying to capitalize on the hacks targeting the Clinton campaign. “Today it is the Democrats,” Rubio said. “Tomorrow it could be us.”
Former NSA director Keith Alexander, speaking to the Senate hearing Thursday, echoed that call for unity. “When you look at the problem and what we’re facing, it’s not a Republican problem, it’s not a Democrat problem,” Alexander said. “This is an American problem, and we all have to come together to solve it.”