Did the Russian government hack the DNC to bring down Hillary Clinton? That's the view that's rapidly emerging inside American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”>

The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. Its an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach.

The theory that Moscow orchestrated the leaks to help Trumpwho has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and practically called for the end of NATOis fast gaining currency within the Obama administration because of the timing of the leaks and Trumps own connections to the Russian government, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and developing quickly.

About 20,000 internal DNC emails were disclosed just days before the beginning of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and several indicated an effort by staffers to undermine Bernie Sanderss campaign against Hillary Clinton. One email even discussed challenging Sanderss religious faith. In response to the embarrassing revelations, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced she would step down after the convention.

Current and former U.S. officials drew analogies to so-called active measures campaigns, or state-sponsored operations designed for political effects.

The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway the coming week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign, David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an sentiment expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may merely be an opening salvo.

Officials also noted Trumps own connections to the Russian government. Putin has publicly praised the nominee, who said he was honored by the compliment. Trumps campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the former chairman of Ukraine who was ousted for his pro-Moscow orientation( and now lives in Russia ). One of Trumps top national security consultants, retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, sat with Putin at a dinnercelebrating the 10 th anniversary of Kremlin-backed media network RT and was paid to give a speech at the event; Flynn afterward retweeted an anti-Semitic message that called into question any Kremlin-Trump link. Another Trump adviser, Carter Page, recently denouncedAmericas often-hypocritical focus on democratization while in Moscow. And last week, Trump said that he might not come to the aid of U.S. NATO allies in the face of Russian aggression unless they paid what he thinks they owe for Europes common defense.

Officials also thought it was telling that the emails were given to WikiLeaks, which is perceived as being hostile to the U.S. government. This wasnt surprising to us, said one U.S. official very well known the investigation.

An FBI spokesperson said in a statement Monday that the bureau was analyse the breach but declined to comment on whether political motivation was part of the inquiry. A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace, the spokesperson said.

Im sure they will consider potential motives, White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.

Two U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that while hacking is a crime, and therefore falls under the FBIs jurisdiction, trying to manipulate an electoral is not. That may restriction what the FBI can investigate, the officials said.

Manipulation is not a crime. Some would argue that Voice of America or Fox News try to manipulate elections, one retired FBI agent told The Daily Beast.

That doesnt mean the FBI has to remain silent if it observes evidence of Russias meddling. Should the bureau release a statement after an investigation tying the Russians to the hacker and subsequent release to WikiLeaks, that would essentially be a public indictment, the officials said.

It also may be possible for the FBI to investigate the question of intent, including whether the email leak is an instance of an unregistered foreign agent illegally trying to influence the U.S. political system, another U.S. official told. But its easier for the FBI to investigate the breach and theft of information itself, which are clearly prohibited under U.S. law, the official added.

The FBI first apprise the DNC in April that it had been breached, told two individuals who are familiar with the matter. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials had been aware of two Russian hacker groups that have been linked to the intrusion and are also believed to have compromised networks in U.S. government agencies, including the Defense Department, the State Department, and the White House, as well as U.S. companies and universities.

The DNC hired a computer security firm, CrowdStrike, to investigate the breach. It has publicly attributed the operation to two known hacker groups connected to the Russian government that it dubs Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear.

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