News / Utah / 

AP File Photo

Nothing new in Russian indictment, but Utahns still see cause for concern

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - Jul 14th, 2018 @ 1:03pm

SALT LAKE CITY — There's nothing new about the hacking done during the 2016 presidential race in Friday's federal indictment against a dozen Russian military intelligence officers, Utah Elections Director Justin Lee said.

"We've known for quite some time that foreign governments, including the Russians, have been involved in trying to infiltrate and influence elections, so these indictments don't bring anything new to light from that perspective," he said.

The indictment spells out that the Russian officers hacked into an unnamed state's elections website, likely Illinois, and stole information related to some 500,000 voters, as well as that of a vendor that supplied voter verification software.

Lee said the state will look into the details and is "going to continue to talk to our federal partners to see if there's anything we should be aware of, but until I know more, I can't really say if we're going to to do anything differently."

Utah was not among the 21 states identified nearly a year ago as scanned by Russian hackers prior to the 2016 election, but Lee said elections officials continue to take the threat seriously.

Before June's primary election, he said, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducted "a scan and a test of our system to see if there are any vulnerabilities or anything we needed to test."

Lee said for security reasons, he could not detail the findings.

Recently, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox suggested to that with 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the ballot, the state may be a bigger target for cyberattacks.

The lieutenant governor, who oversees elections in Utah, told the online political news outlet that Romney's announcement in February that he was running for the U.S. Senate "was a game changer."

Cox said Romney had been "very outspoken when it came to Russia, specially the Russian threat," as a presidential candidate, making the state potentially a high-profile target.

Lee said he expects the indictment to be a topic of discussion at a conference of state elections officials from around the country in Philadelphia this weekend that will include Homeland Security officials.

He said the attention on Russia's involvement in U.S. elections from the indictment, released just before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, brings "more visibility to the situation for the public."

But even though the indictment ties the tampering with the U.S. election to the Russian government, Scott Cooper, a BYU political science professor and expert on Russian politics, said it's not likely to change many minds.

People will continue to view the investigation through a partisan lens, he said.

"I don't think anything that's going on in the current Russian investigation is going to move the needle," Cooper said. "I think people are interpreting this as just one more drip."

He said the U.S. ambassador to Russia, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., probably won't see any difference in the already strained relationship between the two countries as a result of the indictment.

"I don't think there's any reason for that to change. They will deny and deny and criticize, but I don't think that they'll see this as kind of a new ball game, especially if it doesn't change any behavior at the presidential level," Cooper said.

They care more about taking "advantage of opportunities with Trump than worrying about what some lawyers are saying back in the United States, lawyers who have very little chance of getting their hands on a Russian intelligence official," he said.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement that the indictment is more evidence of Russia's disruptive behavior toward democracies.

"Whether it is the countless cyberattacks, interference with our elections, infringing on its neighboring borders or propping up corrupt regimes, Russia has proven itself to be a hostile nation toward America and our Western allies," Curtis said.

He encouraged Trump "to push back on President Putin for Russia's increased aggression" during Monday's meeting between the two world leaders being held in Helsinki.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said she is "encouraged that the Justice Department is making progress in their effort to crack down on Russian interference in our election process."

Love said throughout the nation's history, Americans "have selflessly sacrificed in part to preserve free and open elections. We cannot permit foreign actors to interfere with our democratic processes."

Sen. Orrin Hatch is pleased to see that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is yielding "important results," his spokesman, Matt Whitlock said.

The retiring Republican senator also "is hopeful that as the investigation continues, we can do what we need to protect future elections from foreign interference," Whitlock said.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, did not address the indictment directly in a statement but said he has "always supported the special counsel and the investigation should continue unimpeded."

Lisa Riley Roche

    KSL Weather Forecast