Russian hackers are currently targeting the U.S. election system — and President Donald Trump hasn't formally asked the NSA how to stop it, agency head Adm. Mike Rogers told lawmakers on Tuesday.
"Nobody’s … directly asked me," Rogers said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "I've certainly provided my opinion in ongoing discussions."
It's the second time this month that the government's leading intelligence officials have confirmed the White House has yet to specifically order them to combat the types of Russian cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns that rattled the 2016 elections.
Intelligence agencies have accused the Kremlin of targeting at least 21 states' election systems during the 2016 race, as well as hacking into the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign. And last week, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted over a dozen Russians for spreading disinformation in the U.S. during the election with the intent of helping Trump win the White House.
National security officials have regularly warned that these Moscow-directed online meddlers will be back during the 2018 midterm elections, but Congress has yet to pass specific legislation to address the issue. The Trump administration has also taken heat from Democrats and digital security specialists for not leading the charge to bolster the digital defenses protecting the country's voting networks.
These criticisms jumped into the spotlight earlier this month during a Senate hearing when the heads of the FBI, NSA and CIA, as well as the director of national intelligence, told lawmakers that Trump had not specifically ordered them to fight back against Russia's election meddling.
Rogers resurrected this narrative on Tuesday when he both confirmed that Russian hackers are presently targeting American election networks, and reiterated that he had not been asked for a formal assessment of how to thwart the attacks.
"Yes, sir," he told Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee's top Democrat, who asked him whether Moscow was actively going after U.S. election systems.
Rogers added that he has provided his opinion on stopping these attacks but hasn't, for example, "put anything into writing."
Rogers also told the panel he had not been tasked by anyone in the administration to try to stop the Russian hacks at their point of origin.
"We could be tasked to do that," Rogers said. "It depends on the specifics. I don’t want to over-promise."
Pressed by Reed about whether such an operation is legal and could be undertaken, Rogers replied: "Yes."
Rogers' comments echoed ones he, and the other intelligence leaders, made earlier this month to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“I can’t say I’ve been specifically directed to blunt or actually stop" Russian election influence efforts, Rogers said at the time.
At Tuesday's hearing, Rogers argued that Moscow hadn't backed away from its digital assault on American elections because "they haven’t paid a price ... that is sufficient to get them to change their behavior."
"It hasn’t changed the calculus, is my sense," he added.
The NSA chief — who was likely making his final Capitol Hill appearance before his pending retirement — emphasized that America's cyber retaliation against Moscow should fit in to a "broader" response to the Kremlin's disruptive online efforts.