Prominent Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham says Russia did interfere in the recent U.S. presidential election and can expect hard-hitting sanctions. But a former U.S. official is downplaying the controversy over Russian hacking.
Senator Graham Wednesday said the U.S. Congress in 2017 will investigate Russia's involvement in the November 8 election that propelled businessman Donald Trump to power. "I expect there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly (President Vladimir) Putin as an individual," Graham said, without elaborating. "It is now time for Russia to understand enough is enough," Graham said.
WATCH: Sen. Graham on Bipartisan Sanctions Against Russia
Moscow has denied allegations that President Putin was personally involved in hacking that cost Trump's opponent, Democrat and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the election.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Obama administration could announce as soon as this week measures to punish Russia for election interference. U.S. officials told the newspaper the measures could include economic sanctions and diplomatic censure.
Thomas Graham is managing director of New York-based consulting firm Kissinger Associates and served on the National Security Council during the administration of President George W. Bush. In an interview with VOA's Russian service, he questioned reports connecting Russia to the release of information that might have influenced the election.
"Without seeing the underlying intelligence, it's hard to know with any degree of confidence whether Russia was ultimately behind it or not," he said. "And it's certainly very difficult to know whether President Putin, sitting in the Kremlin, directed all of that."
While not ruling out Russia, he added, "I would keep my mind open in saying there may be other countries or individuals behind releasing this information."
Trump has consistently maintained that last month's election was free of any Russian meddling. Questions are still unanswered about how Russian hackers obtained emails from Clinton's campaign and published them via WikiLeaks in the closing stretch of the campaign, in an apparent attempt to influence the election in Trump's favor.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told VOA, "It's pretty clear that Russia was involved in this past election and collected data from both sides, but released data for one side only in an effort to skew the election." President Barack Obama has ordered the intelligence community to conduct a full review of the allegations.
Senator Graham made his comments in Riga, Latvia as part of a wider tour of Russia's Baltic neighbors. Fellow Republican Senator John McCain also is on the trip, as is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. Their trip comes amid questions as to what NATO course Trump will chart when he takes office as the 45th U.S. president.
McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters that despite unusual times ahead, "we will continue to have strong support for NATO in the Congress of the United States and in the United States Senate," adding, "We believe the three of us and most of our colleagues in the United States Senate that Vladimir Putin and Russian behavior is unacceptable - the latest being apparent attempts on the part of the Russians to affect the outcome of the recent election in the United States."
VOA's Russian Service contributed to this report