Congress’ Republican leaders are preparing to greet incoming President Donald Trump with investigations into whether Russia intruded into last month’s elections to help him win the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say Monday whether he agreed with the CIA assertion that Russian hacking and public release of Democrats’ emails during the presidential campaign were designed to aid Trump. But in a noteworthy departure from Trump’s rejection of that conclusion, the Kentucky Republican said the Senate Intelligence Committee would probe the issue.
“It’s an important subject, and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., endorsed an ongoing investigation by the House Intelligence Committee into cyberthreats from other countries and extremist groups and condemned “any state-sponsored cyberattacks on our democratic process.” He said that examination would continue, with his support.
“Any intervention by Russia is especially problematic because under President (Vladimir) Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests,” Ryan said in a written statement after McConnell met with reporters.
The remarks by McConnell and Ryan drew a contrast with Trump’s oft-repeated praise of Putin and the president-elect’s scoffing at the CIA’s findings. Trump on Sunday called the CIA’s contention “ridiculous” and blamed the disclosures of the agency’s assessment on Democrats who he said were embarrassed over losing last month’s election.
McConnell said he has “the highest confidence” in U.S. intelligence agencies. He recounted Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, said Baltic nation leaders are nervous about Moscow and pointedly praised NATO, the alliance that Trump criticized repeatedly during his campaign.
“I think we ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well,” McConnell said.
Besides embracing an investigation by the Senate’s intelligence panel, led by Richard Burr, R-N.C., McConnell also expressed support for a related probe by the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain has been calling for such an examination and has long been wary of Russia.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., released a letter Monday to National Intelligence Director James Clapper complaining that recent reports of the CIA’s conclusion clashed with Clapper’s prior statement to the panel that he lacked “good insight” about the connection between Russian hacking of Democratic campaign documents and their release by Wikileaks. Nunes requested a briefing on the subject for this week.
The GOP leaders expressed their views after a weekend in which Trump also said he would not need daily intelligence briefings, a staple of presidents’ days for decades and a flouting of a convention common for presidential transitions.
The campaign chairman for defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged the Obama administration Monday to reveal what it knows about any Russian efforts to help Trump win. John Podesta, whose emails were stolen and posted online, said the administration “owes it to the American people” to release details of the intrusions, which included the hacking of Democratic Party files.
Podesta said the Clinton campaign also supports a call by 10 of the 538 members of the Electoral College for Clapper to provide information that intelligence agencies have gathered on the subject.