McConnell rejects special panel for Russia election allegations

McConnell rejects special panel for Russia election allegations
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) said the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate recent CIA findings that the Russian government tried to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Calling the allegations of Russian meddling “disturbing,” McConnell said Monday the intelligence panel should take the lead, dismissing calls by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) and others for a special select committee to review the matter.

The Kentucky Republican said the Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter.”

“We’re going to follow the regular order. It’s an important subject and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis,” he said when asked specifically if he would support a special bipartisan commission.

McConnell noted that he sits on the panel as an ex-officio member and that incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (N.Y.) will soon join it in the same capacity.

Schumer joined McCain and two other bipartisan lawmakers on a Sunday letter calling for an investigation spanning “across the jurisdictional lines of Congress.”

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McCain, a leading Senate voice on national security and the threat posed by Russia, also called Sunday for a special committee to delve into the issue.

“I would like, in an ideal world, to have a select committee,” he CBS’s “Face the Nation,” explaining the leaders of the Senate Intelligence, Foreign Relations and Armed Services panels should play a role.

McConnell noted that McCain will be conducting his own review of cybersecurity threats facing the nation as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

“Sen. McCain and Sen. Burr will both be looking at this issue and doing it on a bipartisan basis,” he said, referring to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-N.C.).

McConnell made clear views Russian President Vladimir Putin as more of an adversary than a friend.

“The Russians are not our friends. They invaded Crimea,” he said, noting that a group of senators this past week met with a delegation from Baltic counties.

“To say that they’re nervous about the Russians is to put it mildly,” he said.

“We ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well,” he added.

He declined, however, to comment on the possible appointment of ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson, who has close ties with Putin, to serve as Secretary of State.

He said he’s “been very impressed with nominations,” adding, “we’ll have to see who’s nominated as Secretary of State.”

“Let’s wait until we get nominees,” he said. “I don’t want to comment on kind of a phantom nominee today.”

While he strongly condemns allegations that Russia may have breached U.S. “cybersecurity measures,” the majority leader said leaked characterizations of the motivation behind Russian hacking should be weighed carefully, suggesting a possible partisan lens.

He noted that prior to the election, the director of National Intelligence released a statement about hacking activities directed by the Russian government, but cautioned any leaks about U.S. intelligence findings “is irresponsible, likely illegally and potentially for partisan political gain.”

Publications such as The New York Times, citing senior administration officials, reported that American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia acted to help President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE and harm Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE, the Democratic nominee.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump, said he was unsure of the last time Trump and McConnell spoke, but dismissed efforts to investigate Russian interference in the election as coming from "people who are bitter their candidate lost."

“This overall narrative, this is clearly an attempt to delegitimize Trump’s win," Miller said Monday. "That’s what’s going on here. First there was the recount nonsense, then the discussion of the popular vote, now it’s anonymous sources with conflicting information trying to raise other issues.”

Trump has dismissed the CIA report, calling it “ridiculous” on Sunday and following up Monday on Twitter.

"Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card," Trump tweeted Monday.

"It would be called conspiracy theory!"

Updated 2:48 p.m.

Jonathan Easley contributed.