Ex-intelligence officials back independent probe of Russian hacking

Ex-intelligence officials back independent probe of Russian hacking
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A group of 15 former foreign policy and intelligence officials and outside experts is backing a proposal to create an independent commission to study Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Among those backing an independent commission are former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former CIA Director Mike Morrell and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

“This inquiry should occur immediately. Anything less than a swift investigation will leave us vulnerable to another attack and, possibly worse, permit and normalize future interference,” a statement from the group reads.

Congress continues to squabble over how best to probe reports that Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other organizations were an attempt to meddle in the 2016 election.

A proposal from House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and California Democrat Eric Swalwell, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee’s CIA subcommittee, would create a nongovernmental panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission.

But the measure may face an uphill climb on Capitol Hill. Republican leadership in both chambers has sought to limit inquiries into the matter to the Intelligence Committees — an approach those who signed Wednesday’s statement pushed back against.

“It is essential that this commission be established outside of Congress, as that is the only way to ensure that the investigation is comprehensive and not siloed within a certain congressional committee’s jurisdiction,” they wrote.

Other lawmakers have also waded into the issue.

Both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee will convene Thursday to discuss the matter. Senior intelligence community (IC) officials will brief Armed Services members in an open setting, while the Foreign Affairs Committee will received a classified briefing behind closed doors.

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE continues to cast doubt on the IC’s conclusion that Russia was attempting to interfere in the U.S. election.

“I just want them to be sure, because it’s a pretty serious charge, and I want them to be sure,” Trump said on New Year’s Eve.

“Hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

He hinted Saturday that he knows “things that other people don’t know” about the situation, but did not offer details when pressed, other than to say, “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

But that timeframe appeared to have shifted Tuesday, after Trump tweeted: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

U.S. officials have said the IC briefing was always scheduled for Friday. 

The president-elect and his team have largely treated reports of Russia’s meddling as an attack on the legitimacy of his November victory.

“Some have questioned whether the Russian government, despite the conclusion of 17 of our intelligence agencies, was really responsible for the hacks,” the 15 signees of Wednesday’s statement wrote. “Such doubts only reinforce why an independent, inquiry should occur outside of Congress.”

“An independent, bipartisan-appointed commission — made up of experts who can focus on this issue exclusively — can provide the American people with credible, complete results of what happened and make recommendations so that such state-sponsored interference never happens again.”

The other signees of Wednesday’s letter are: former Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey L. Bleich, former Counselor of the State Department Eliot A. Cohen; former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; former National Security Advisor Gen. James L. Jones; former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor David J. Kramer; former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; former Department of Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Paul Rosenzweig; former Justice Department national security prosecutor Mary Ruppert; Edward Schatz, a political science professor at the University of Toronto; E. John Sebes, the chief technology officer of the TrustTheVote Project; former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control; and former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers.