Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona has asserted that if Russian intelligence had hacked into the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign during the presidential race, then their leaking of stolen emails was a public service.
On Dec. 29, Rep. Franks stated that Russia had not committed an egregious offense by allegedly hacking and disseminating data from Democratic organizations during the presidential election.
"I'm all for doing what's necessary to protect the election here, but there's no suggestion that Russia hacked into our voting systems or anything like that," Franks told MSNBC. "If anything, whatever they may have done, was to try to use information in a way that may have affected something that they believe was in their best interest."
The Arizona lawmaker's comments landed shortly before President Barack Obama announced the sanctioning of several Russian individuals and entities for their involvement in the cyber espionage, in addition to ordering the removal of 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S., CNN reports.
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The White House described the dramatic measures as retaliation for the Russian government's efforts to "sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government."
Shortly after the announcement, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a joint report detailing evidence that the Russian intelligence services had hacked into Democratic organizations with the objective of helping sway public perception of the election.
On Dec. 15, Obama had actually agreed with Franks' assessment that Russia did not act to tamper with the voting systems but to leak information that would suit their interests. In Obama's view, the Russian government wanted President-elect Donald Trump defeat Clinton and had stolen and released information to damage her campaign in the public eye.
"There's no doubt that it contributed to an atmosphere in which the only focus for weeks at a time, months at a time were Hillary's emails, the Clinton Foundation, political gossip surrounding the DNC," Obama told NPR.
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Trump appeared to acknowledge the impact of the leaks during a July press conference, when he encouraged Russian intelligence groups to hack into Clinton's email server and leak them.
"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said, according to Politico. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
In Franks' interview with MSNBC, the Arizona lawmaker added that he believed Russia had done the media's job for them.
"But the bottom line, if they succeeded — if Russia succeeded — in giving the American people information that was accurate, then they merely did what the media should have done," Franks concluded.
The Arizona lawmaker did not clarify whether or not he was suggesting that journalists should hack into and leak data from private and governmental organizations.