National Security

GOP seeks to limit Russian probes


Republicans are seeking to put a limit on congressional investigations of Russian interference in the presidential election.

In both chambers, leaders have given ownership of the issue to the intelligence committees, which are among the most secretive on Capitol Hill.

In doing so, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have united behind the need for Congress to investigate Moscow’s alleged attempt to interfere with the election — but rebuffed calls from Democrats for far broader probes.

McConnell on Monday morning also rejected calls from Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) for a select Senate committee, although he expressed support for a separate review of cyber threats from within the Armed Services panel.

{mosads}In the House, Republicans downplayed the need for any additional inquiries aside from existing investigative work already underway in the House Intelligence Committee. 

Ryan in a Monday statement characterized the committee’s work on cyber threats posed by foreign governments as ongoing and “diligent.”

But his statement also hinted at the political sensitivity of any probe that might call into question the legitimacy of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise victory.

Ryan warned against politicizing the issue, arguing that “we should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election.”

He seemed to echo Trump and his transition team, who have characterized reports of Russian hacking as an “excuse” for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller on Monday argued those pushing for an investigation were seeking to delegitimize Trump’s victory.

By far the most outspoken Republicans on the issue have been McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — both harsh critics of Trump during his campaign.

Both senators were pushing for inquiries into Russia’s behavior last week, before press reports emerged Friday that the CIA had briefed lawmakers that it believed the Russian hackers who infiltrated the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other Democratic political organizations did so to defeat Clinton and elect Trump.

Democrats are pursuing the issue, though they are careful to insist they are not disputing the election’s results.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday banded together with McCain to issue calls for an investigation and sought to contrast his motivations with recent GOP-led congressional probes.

“We don’t wanna point a finger. And I don’t want this to turn into a Benghazi investigation, which seemed, at least to many people, highly political,” Schumer said Monday morning.

Retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, threw gasoline on the partisan fire on Saturday, suggesting the FBI under Director James Comey withheld information on its findings about Russia.

“The FBI had this material for a long time, but Comey, who is of course a Republican, refused to divulge specific information about Russia and the presidential election,” Reid told MSNBC’s “AM Joy.”

The Washington Post reported Friday that the CIA held a closed-door session with key members of Congress last week in which agency officials told senators that it was now “quite clear” that Russia’s goal was to elect Trump.

That assessment goes beyond an official statement made by intelligence leaders in October, blaming Russia for the intrusions but declining to ascribe a motive. It also contradicts FBI briefings to Congress, which reportedly have been more circumspect.

The Obama administration is conducting its own review of the 2016 election, which it says will not examine whether Russia explicitly intended to help Trump win the election.

It is unclear if either Intelligence Committee probe will go further than tracing Russia’s steps to examine the motivations of the Kremlin.

House Republicans gave conflicting signals about how aggressive they will be.

Ryan’s original statement condemned foreign interference in the U.S. election but did not mention a specific Intelligence Committee probe.

Pressed on whether that meant he supported an investigation, spokesman Brendan Buck replied, “yes, goodness, but also that this work has already been taking place. Folks should stop acting like HPSCI has ignored this.”

Shortly thereafter, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence panel, issued his own statement saying that the committee will “remain a vigilant monitor” of the intelligence community’s investigation into the cyberattacks, as well as “closely oversee the production of the report requested by President Obama to ensure its analytical integrity.”

“At this time I do not see any benefit in opening further investigations, which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and Intelligence Community inquiries,” he said.

Nunes is a member of Trump’s transition team.

Democrats are pushing for more aggressive action.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has long called for a stronger response to the hacks, on Monday called for a joint investigation between the Senate and House intelligence committees, along with public hearings “similar to what was done after 9/11, to determine the length and breadth of Russian interference in our elections.”

Democrats in both chambers have pushed the idea of an independent commission to investigate the alleged Russian cyberattacks.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) proposed a bipartisan outside commission to identify the culprits and recommend a response.

Last week, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) alongside Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee’s CIA subcommittee, announced legislation to create an independent 12-member commission modeled after the 9/11 Commission.

With the president-elect shoving back on any suggestion of Russian interference in the election, Democrats could see an outside commission as more likely than a Republican-led committee to conclude that Russia was trying to help Trump.

Against the backdrop of growing calls for action is Trump’s ongoing feud with U.S. intelligence, setting the stage for a possible showdown with lawmakers determined to unravel Russia’s impact on the election.

In a statement following Friday’s Washington Post report, his transition team brushed off the conclusions of the CIA, noting, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.

Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway on Monday argued that the calls for inquiry were political theater based on scanty evidence.

“What [Trump] believes is that we should have evidence, not these off-the-record, unsourced quotes and leaks from a House Intelligence Committee,” she said on “CBS This Morning.”

But she said that the president-elect would not interfere with any congressional attempts to investigate the hacks.

“If people wanna have congressional investigations they should do that. But we can’t really get ahead of ourselves making that conclusion [that Russia was involved],” she said.

Tags Adam Schiff Ben Cardin Chuck Schumer Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton John McCain Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Patrick Leahy Paul Ryan Russia

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