Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday strongly condemned any foreign interference with U.S. elections and announced that the Senate intelligence panel will investigate Russia’s suspected election interference.
“The Russian are not our friends,” McConnell told reporters at a scheduled year-end news conference.
McConnell’s announcement came a day after a group of senators called for a thorough, bipartisan investigation of Russian interference. Some have endorsed the idea of a special select committee to lead an investigation, but McConnell stopped short of endorsing that, saying that any congressional probe would follow “regular order” through the current committee structure.
“This simply cannot be a partisan issue,” McConnell said, before adding that the Intelligence Committee “is more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter.”
McConnell declined to address his own role in a September briefing for lawmakers, where he reportedly dismissed intelligence assessments suggesting Russia was trying to sway the election in favor of Donald Trump. Instead, McConnell credited Senate Republicans for standing firm against Russia and blamed Obama for Russian encroachment around the globe.
“The Obama administration for eight years attempted to reset relations with Russia, and sat back while Russia expanded its sphere of influence and intervened in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria, and attempted to bully Baltic countries. It defies belief that somehow Republicans in the Senate are reluctant to either review Russian tactics or ignore them,” he said.
McConnell also expressed strong support for the intelligence community, putting him at odds with Trump’s public doubts about the reliability of the nation’s intelligence agencies.
“I have the highest confidence in the intelligence community and especially the Central Intelligence Agency,” McConnell said. “The CIA is filled with selfless patriots, many of whom anonymously risk their lives for the American people.”
McConnell’s calls for a nonpartisan approach to the subject echoed the sentiments of the Senate’s new top Democrat, who also vowed Monday to keep any congressional investigation of Russia from devolving into partisan warfare.
“Just the facts” is what incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged any inquiry would focus on during a national CBS interview Monday morning.
“We don’t want to point a finger and I don’t want this to turn into a Benghazi investigation, which seemed at least to many people to be highly political,” he told CBS. “This is serious stuff, when a foreign power tries to influence our election or damage our economy, for that matter. This is serious and it’s gotten worse. And a bipartisan investigation that’s not aimed at one specific instance but looks at the broad scope of this is just what’s needed.”
In a separate statement, Schumer said he welcomed McConnell’s support for a bipartisan investigation.
Schumer spoke out a day after he and Sens. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Democrat Jack Reed, R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, called for a bipartisan probe. Their calls came after The Washington Post reported the CIA’s conclusion that Russia’s activities were intended to tip the scales to help Republican Donald Trump.
“You have the CIA saying one thing — I haven’t gotten the briefings yet. The FBI is saying something else. We need to get to the bottom of this in a fair, nonpartisan, non-finger-pointing way,” Schumer told CBS, noting that he will not receive any top-level intelligence briefings until he is formally installed as a Senate leader early next year.
McCain, joining the interview from Arizona, said that based on information he has seen, he cannot say for certain that he believes the CIA’s assessment that Russia intervened in the election to benefit Trump. But, he added, “There’s no doubt about the hacking — let’s establish that.”
“I was hacked into, my [presidential] campaign in 2008 was hacked into, so there’s no doubt about the hacking,” McCain told CBS. “Then the question is about the intention. But it’s all about the larger issue, about the cyber threat we face from Russia, China and other countries. It’s another form of warfare and the entire issue is going to be investigated by the Armed Services Committee because it’s a threat to our national security.”
McCain also said he has no information about whether Russia hacked the Republican National Committee — a point strongly disputed by party leaders who say they’ve seen no evidence of such an intrusion.
“We do not know what they have done. There’s good evidence they’ve hacked into the DNC,” McCain said.
Other senators, including James Lankford, R-Okla., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., have expressed support for a broad Senate investigation. But Lankford said on Sunday that he has seen no evidence of Russia tampering with election results.
Other Republicans may be reluctant to support a wide-ranging investigation of Russia’s election-related activities given that Trump has dismissed the CIA claims as “ridiculous.”
“I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it … No, I don’t believe it at all,” Trump said of the CIA allegations, on Fox News on Sunday. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway echoed her boss on CBS, saying that such allegations from the intelligence community were “laughable and ridiculous.”
Also Sunday on Fox News, John Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador reportedly being considered for deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration, said that reports of Russian interference in the presidential election may be a “false flag” conjured up by the Obama administration.
Trump again emphasized his disbelief with tweets Monday morning:
“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!”
“Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”