By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. failure to retaliate strongly for the 2014 cyber attack against Sony Pictures may have helped inspire Russian hackers who sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, a senior congressional Democrat said on Tuesday.
"Russia may have concluded that they could hack American institutions and there'd be no price to pay," Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told a press breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Schiff suggested that Washington team up with European allies to impose sanctions that would hit the Russian economy.
Russia was blamed for high-profile attacks on Democratic organizations that damaged the party during the 2016 election campaign, in which Republican Donald Trump won the presidency and his party kept control of the Senate and the House. Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the allegations as U.S. campaign rhetoric.
Schiff was one of a group of senior House Democratic lawmakers who wrote to President Barack Obama on Tuesday asking administration officials to brief members of Congress on Russian efforts to influence or interfere in the Nov. 8 U.S. election.
"Russia may have succeeded in weakening Americans' trust" in democratic institutions, said the letter, also signed by Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, and the ranking Democrats on the Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Oversight and Armed Services committees.
Other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have asked for investigations or called for legislation to address the hacking issue.
Reuters reported on Friday that James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, asked Congress to remove a provision in an upcoming intelligence authorization bill that would have created a special committee to combat Russian efforts to exert covert influence abroad.
Schiff, who backs creation of the bipartisan committee, said on Tuesday the United States needed to do more to stop such hacking. "Unless we establish some kind of deterrent, this is going to be unending," he said.
An Intelligence Committee aide said the panel had changed the provision independent of Clapper's letter and felt it had "appropriately addressed" intelligence community concerns.
In 2016, the hacking benefited Trump, Schiff said. He added, however, that Russian hackers could turn on Trump once he is president if they do not approve of his policies.
The Obama administration publicly blamed North Korea for the malicious breaches that crippled Sony in 2014.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)