Schumer joins McCain in call for independent probe of Russian hacking

Schumer joins McCain in call for independent probe of Russian hacking
© Getty

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey MORE (D-N.Y.) is calling for a special Senate committee to investigate Russian attempts to influence the presidential election, joining Democratic and Republican colleagues who for days have demanded such a probe.

The top Senate Democrat joins two Republican colleagues, Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms Comey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Five things to know about 'MBS,' Saudi Arabia's crown prince MORE (S.C.), and fellow Democratic Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Trump asks Turkey for evidence on missing journalist | Key Dem calls for international probe | Five things to know about 'MBS' | Air Force struggles to determine cost of hurricane damage to F-22 jets Trump administration doesn't have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey Top Armed Services Dem calls for international probe into missing Saudi journalist MORE (R.I.) in a letter released Sunday calling for GOP leadership to create a new select committee on cybersecurity to investigate Russian hacking.

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the four wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ky.), arguing that cybersecurity is “the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge” that requires a “comprehensive approach.”


“Therefore would ask for your support in establishing a temporary Select Committee on Cyber,” they wrote.

By joining the letter, Schumer is setting up for a conflict with McConnell.

On Monday, the majority leader rejected calls for a special committee, arguing that the Senate Intelligence Committee should take the lead as a matter of “regular order.”

However, Democratic aides and good-government groups such as Common Cause have expressed concern that the Intelligence Committee has a tradition of secrecy and, in recent years, has been plagued by partisan bickering.

The differing views of Schumer and McConnell over whether to create a special committee represents the first major procedural dispute between the two since Schumer was elected leader after the dust settled on the 2016 cycle.

While McConnell has acknowledged that interference in the election is a serious matter that deserves to be probed, he believes it is something the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services panels can handle on their own. 

He has warned that leaked intelligence characterizing Russian hacking as an effort to help President-elect Trump win as possibly distorted by political motives within the Obama administration.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) last week only noted that the House Intelligence Committee had been “working diligently on the cyber threats posed by foreign governments” and promised to support its continued work.

Schumer, McCain and their colleagues argued Sunday that the investigation is simply too broad and complex to be handled by one committee.

“The Congress’s oversight committees have worked diligently to address the complex challenge of cybersecurity, but recent events show that more must be done,” they wrote to McConnell.

They note cybersecurity threats posed by Russians and other foreign adversaries cut across the jurisdictions of several committees, including the Intelligence, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Commerce, Judiciary and Homeland Security panels.

“Only a select committee that is time-limited, cross-jurisdictional and purpose-driven can address the challenges of cyber,” the lawmakers wrote.

McCain is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Reed is the panel’s senior Democrat. Graham is a member of Armed Services, as well.  

“We want to find out what the Russians are doing to our political system and what other foreign governments might do to our political system. And then figure out a way to stop it. Only a select committee can do it,” Schumer said in his own separate remarks.

“The four of us feel very strongly about it. To send it just to one committee or a multiplicity of committees will leave things out, won’t reconcile contradictory information and because the existing committees are so busy in the new administration won’t get the focus that it needs,” he said.

The question now is whether Democrats -- along with McCain and Graham -- will be able to persuade McConnell to hold a floor vote on creating a special committee or whether they will be able to force a vote through the Senate’s amendment process.

McConnell has prided himself on allowing Democrats to get votes on their proposed amendments since taking over as Senate majority leader.

Several senior Democrats last week, including outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations MORE (Nev.), and Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Pollsters: White college-educated women to decide if Dems capture House Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review MORE (Calif.), the outgoing senior Democrat on the Intelligence panel, and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Dem senator: Trump accepts Saudi denials because he is 'enamored' with dictators Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (Md.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said McConnell should create a special bipartisan commission, such as the one that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Schumer initally held back from joining his colleagues, in what one senior Democratic aide described as an effort to avoid possibly alienating McCain or Graham. 

Schumer wants to maintain bipartisan support for the investigation and insisting on a Select Committee without buy-in from GOP colleagues might have created a partisan atmosphere. 

He did not express a preference on the form of the investigation, he only called for it be bipartisan, deep and given access to all the relevant intelligence.

McCain was one of the first lawmakers to call for a select committee. He did so during an appearance CBS’s “Face the Nation” last week.

He told CBS’s John Dickerson then that a select panel would be “ideal,” but in a joint statement with Schumer, Graham and Reed last weekend stopped short of calling for one explicitly.

Instead, they said, “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.”

Since then the gravity of Russia's role in the political debate leading up to the election has become a more prominent issue.

Michael Morrell, the former acting director of the CIA, who endorsed Clinton over Trump, called Russian meddling "the political equivalent of 9/11."

And senior intelligence officials have said Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in leaking sensitive hacked information during the campaign. 

"We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognized that this is an extraordinary request," the four lawmakers wrote in conclusion to McConnell. "However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem."

Mallory Shelbourne contributed. Updated 4:42 p.m.