Just over a month after he called claims of a “rigged” election “delusional,” Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman on Monday backed calls for a group of renegade electors to receive an intelligence briefing on alleged political interference by Russia – days before the Electoral College is set to vote.
“We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump,” John Podesta said in a statement. “This should distress every American. Never before in the history of our Republic have we seen such an effort to undermine the bedrock of our democracy.”
Podesta’s statement follows mounting calls by Democrats and some Republicans to fully investigate whether Russia was behind a spate of hackings in the run-up to the election -- as Trump tries to tamp down the controversy.
Podesta, though, went a step further by describing the intelligence findings so far as important for electors' upcoming meeting.
The Electoral College is set to vote Dec. 19 in a typically routine exercise where electors essentially rubber stamp the results of the general election. But a group of 10 electors, in an open letter Monday to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, requested a briefing on Trump-Russia connections. These electors have argued they shouldn't be bound to the Nov. 8 result, and in their letter cited their role as a "deliberative body" designed in part to prevent foreign powers from trying to “influence the election.”
“The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security,” Podesta said in his statement. “Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”
The CIA and FBI have produced somewhat dueling narratives; the CIA reportedly told Congress that Russia no doubt tried to exert influence to help Trump win, while the FBI was not ready to reach the same conclusion.
Podesta and the electors have seized on the CIA's findings. But they're not alone in seeking to drill down into allegations over Russian meddling.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., said Monday he supports a bipartisan investigation and believes the Senate intelligence committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review” -- after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other senior Republicans sought a probe.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R.-Wis., in a statement called “any foreign intervention in our elections … entirely unacceptable.” However, Ryan stopped short of calling for a formal congressional inquiry.
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in turn pressured Ryan to "join the bipartisan call for a formal investigation into Russia’s unprecedented assault on our democracy."
Trump and others have sharply questioned the CIA’s assessment of Russian intrusion. The president-elect called the report "ridiculous" in an interview with "Fox News Sunday."
Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from FoxNews.com, but Trump tweeted about the situation earlier Monday.
“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card,” Trump asked. “It would be called conspiracy theory!”
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
While Wikileaks’ release of more than 50,000 Podesta emails, and the hack of the Democratic National Committee, would seem to clearly hurt Clinton, the hack of former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell’s email earlier this year cut the other way -- revealing several critical exchanges about Trump.
Democrats nevertheless have pointed to the CIA report to revive concerns about Trump-Russia ties.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Monday hit Trump and anyone else questioning the CIA’s findings, saying critics “didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity.”
Earnest also said Congress has a “special responsibility” to take a close look at this.
While Earnest said Republicans were “wringing their hands” about the potential Russian connection, Democrats also are finding themselves in a complicated position. President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Podesta and Clinton all were vocal prior to the election – when Clinton held a comfortable polling lead – that Trump not try to challenge the results or question the integrity of the vote.
“Donald Trump refused to say that he’d respect the results of this election,” Clinton tweeted on Oct. 21. “By doing that, he’s threatening our democracy.”
Said Obama: “When you try to sow the seeds of doubt in people’s minds about the legitimacy of our elections – then that undermines our democracy.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes late Monday broke with other senior Republicans, issuing a statement that said he didn't believe additional investigations into a Russian connection were needed. He also fired a warning shot at any in the Democratic leadership or intelligence communities who might try to use a perceived Russian connection to make political hay.
"We will also closely oversee the production of the report on these attacks requested by President Obama to ensure its analytical integrity," Nunes said.
Fox News' Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.