Allegations that Russia interfered in the presidential election in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s campaign have roiled Republicans, as prominent GOP lawmakers pursue a bipartisan congressional investigation while President-elect Trump’s team tries to tamp down the controversy and “move on.”
Trump told “Fox News Sunday” the CIA’s reported assessment was “ridiculous” and described the claim as another “excuse” pushed by Democrats to explain his upset victory.
“Nobody really knows,” he said. “... They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place.”
He continued to push back Monday morning on Twitter:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., though, said Monday that the Senate intelligence committee will review the matter.
“The Russians are not our friends,” McConnell said, while saying he has the highest confidence in the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community.
The debate follows a Washington Post report that the CIA concluded in a secret assessment that Russia interfered in the race to boost Trump, not just undermine confidence in the system.
Intelligence agencies reportedly found individuals connected to the Russian government gave WikiLeaks hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, as well as from Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta – though did not have “specific intelligence” showing Kremlin officials directed the activity.
In response to this report, and following White House confirmation that President Obama has ordered an intelligence review of election hacking before he leaves office, the Trump transition team also put out a statement saying: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Key Republican and Democratic senators, though, want to pursue the claims.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham joined Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed in calling Sunday for a congressional investigation.
“While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks,” they said in a statement. “This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”
McConnell, R-Ky., backed the push for a congressional review during his press conference Monday.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday the investigation should be one of the first orders of business for the new Congress in January.
McCain, R-Ariz., told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that Obama’s intelligence agency review is not going to be able to uncover everything in the month before Obama leaves office.
“We need to look at it,” he told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Monday. McCain said the point is to “make sure we don’t make it a partisan issue.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., seemed to back the call for an investigation on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I think there should be an investigation because in order to defend ourselves against other adversarial countries, we have to protect our information,” he said.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also tweeted that he agreed with the call for a congressional probe. “#CyberSecurity investigation of Russian interference can't be partisan,” he wrote.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, has not yet specifically endorsed such calls.
Ryan said in a statement Monday he supports general congressional efforts to examine cyber threats and considers any foreign intervention in U.S. elections “unacceptable,” especially involving Russia.
“At the same time,” he said, “exploiting the work of our intelligence community for partisan purposes does a grave disservice to those professionals and potentially jeopardizes our national security. As we work to protect our democracy from foreign influence, we should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election.”
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a Republican under consideration for a leadership post in Trump’s State Department, told Fox News he supports the calls for an investigation – but suggested that Trump’s pick for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., is the one to lead it.
“Any effort by any foreign government to influence an American election is a direct assault on the Constitution,” Bolton said Sunday. “If the facts prove out that Russia did try to influence our election, they should face very grave consequences.”
Bolton said he’s worried Obama is “rushing” to put out a report and raised questions about the reported conclusions of the CIA – namely, whether Russia really would have left fingerprints on its operation.
“If you think the Russians did this, then why did they leave fingerprints?” he said. “I’m not by any means trying to exonerate [Russia]. … It is absolutely critical as well that we get the facts right on this.”
Bolton suggested it could have been a “false flag operation.” He said Monday that a foreign intelligence service from China, Iran, North Korea or elsewhere could have left evidence “pointing the finger at somebody else.”