Republicans and Democrats agree that over the years Russians have hacked, and tried to hack, American systems and institutions many times. Others, specifically the Chinese, have even successfully hacked U.S. presidential campaigns. The difference in the case of the 2016 election, many Democrats say, is that Russia “weaponized” the hacked information about the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and then released it to the public with the intention of influencing U.S. voters.

“Here’s what’s different about what Russia did,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on ABC a few days ago. “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it. They dumped it during an election with the specific intent of influencing the outcomes of that election and sowing discord in the United States.”

Given that argument, it’s critical that investigators establish the connection between the Russian hackers, who allegedly stole the Democrats’ information, and Wikileaks, which disseminated it to the public. What’s key, in other words, is that investigators show how “weaponization” occurred.

Establishing that link is even more important since the head of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, has now on a number of occasions flatly denied his organization received the information from Russia.

“Our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party,” Assange told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Tuesday night.

Assange’s lawyerly choice of words — he said “state party” four times in the Hannity interview — gave him plenty of wiggle room and left open the possibility that the Russians used a middleman to give the hacked Democratic documents to Wikileaks. If that were the case, what Assange said would be technically correct, but his larger point would be false.

From the U.S. side, there are questions about how much American intelligence experts know about the Wikileaks connection.

On one hand, some press reports have presented the intelligence community’s opinion as nearly definitive. “Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor, has resisted the conclusion that his site became a pass-through for Russian hackers working for Mr. Putin’s government or that he was deliberately trying to undermine Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy,” the New York Times reported in a 7,700-word article in early December. “But the evidence on both counts appears compelling.”

On the other hand, U.S. officials, at least in public, have been more circumspect. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in November, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said officials know a lot about some aspects of the hacking story, but less about others. “As far as the WikiLeaks connection, the evidence there is not as strong and we don’t have good insight into the sequencing of the releases or when the data may have been provided,” Clapper said. “We don’t have as good insight into that.”

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Presumably — hopefully — the intelligence community report ordered by President Obama will shed light on the Wikileaks connection. The report is expected as soon as Friday, but it’s not clear whether all, or even part, of the report’s evidence will be made public.

For his part, in the Hannity interview, Assange pointed out that the White House’s most recent statement on the issue, the December 29 announcement of retaliation against Russia, did not mention Wikileaks. “We had five different branches of government — Treasury, DHS, FBI, White House — presenting their accusations to underpin Obama’s throwing out 35 Russian diplomats,” Assange said. “What was missing from all of those statements, the word WikiLeaks. It’s very strange.”

“They don’t have the evidence that WikiLeaks is involved in that way,” Assange concluded.

Maybe, or maybe not. In any case, the “weaponization” argument requires that the government produce to the public some convincing evidence of the Russia-Wikileaks connection.

Talk to many Republicans, and they’ll say there are still several possibilities to explain the hacking affair; there might have been some other, non-Russian actors involved in the matter, and it might not have unfolded the way Democrats think. And still, the most likely explanation, some say, is that the Russians hacked the Democratic groups and gave the material to Wikileaks. But the public will need to see some proof.

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