Leading Senate Republicans are preparing to launch a coordinated and wide-ranging probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. elections and its potential cyberthreats to the military. Republicans ready to launch wide-ranging probe of Russia, despite Trump’s stance:
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (Ariz.) is readying a probe of possible Russian cyber-incursions into U.S. weapons systems, and he said he has been discussing the issue with Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.), with whom he will be “working closely” to investigate Russia’s suspected interference in the U.S. elections and cyberthreats to the military and other institutions.
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) also said he intends to hold hearings next year into alleged Russian hacking. Corker is on Trump’s shortlist for secretary of state, according to the Trump transition team.
The loudest GOP calls for a Russia probe are coming from McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Both have taken a hard line on Russia and have been highly critical of Trump, particularly his praise of President Vladimir Putin.
“They’ll keep doing more here until they pay a price,” Graham said of Russia. He plans to spearhead legislation and hold a series of investigative hearings next year into “Russia’s misadventures throughout the world,” including Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.
“I’m going after Russia in every way you can go after Russia. I think they’re one of the most destabilizing influences on the world stage. I think they did interfere with our elections, and I want Putin personally to pay the price,” Graham said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
McCain said his Armed Services Committee will launch a probe in the 115th Congress into Russia’s cyber-capabilities against the U.S. military and weapons systems, “because the real threat is cyber,” he explained.
But McCain said he expects the investigation will also dovetail with the topic of Russia’s suspected hacking of the DNC and state-based election systems — which include a hack that took place in McCain’s home state of Arizona.
“See, the problem with hacking is that if they’re able to disrupt elections, then it’s a national security issue, obviously,” McCain said Thursday.
He added that the Armed Services Committee was “still formulating” exactly how to address the issue during hearings. But despite Trump’s dismissal, McCain said that “there’s very little doubt” Russia interfered in the U.S. elections, which he called “very worthy of examination.”
The U.S. government in October officially accused Russia of hacking the DNC’s emails during the presidential campaign. The emails were posted on websites such as WikiLeaks and embarrassed the party, notably forcing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) to resign as DNC chairwoman.
And U.S. military officials officials are concerned about Russia’s capacity to steal military secrets and corrupt operations: Officials already suspect that Russian hackers were behind a major email breach at the Pentagon last year. And the military could be a target for backlash, after an NBC News report widely circulated by Russian media said that U.S. military hackers were ready to launch cyberattacks against Russia in the event of an obvious election hack.
On Friday, President Obama ordered the intelligence agencies to prepare a report about the Russian hacking. Obama orders investigation of Russian hacking during 2016 election:
[A]mid mounting calls to investigate Russian meddling, President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to review those efforts to influence the election, and issue a full report before he leaves office.
“The President has directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process,” Homeland Security adviser Linda Monaco told reporters Friday morning, CNN reports, explaining that the White House hopes to “capture lessons learned” over the past several years. “This is consistent with the work that we did over the summer to engage Congress on the threats that we were seeing.”
It was not clear from the announcement whether the White House intends to release the report to the public, either in full or in redacted form. “You want to do so very attentive to not disclosing sources and methods that would impede our ability to identify and attribute malicious actors in the future,” Monaco said.
Obama wants the report before he leaves office January 20, Monaco said. The review will be led by James Clapper, the outgoing director of national intelligence, officials said.
Overnight the Washington Post reported that a Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House:
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
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The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.
For example, intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.
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In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “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 [false]. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.
Trump has consistently dismissed the intelligence community’s findings about Russian hacking.
“I don’t believe they interfered” in the election, he told Time magazine this week. The hacking, he said, “could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
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Seven Democratic senators last week asked Obama to declassify details about the intrusions and why officials believe that the Kremlin was behind the operation. Officials said Friday that the senators specifically were asking the White House to release portions of the CIA’s presentation.
This week, top Democratic lawmakers in the House also sent a letter to Obama, asking for briefings on Russian interference in the election.
The report goes on to describe how members of Congress were briefed during the election.
The Post’s report highlights and exacerbates the increasingly fraught situation in which congressional Republicans find themselves with regard to Russia and Trump. By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Trump’s favor, they risk raising questions about whether Trump would have won without Russian intervention.
Trump, after all, won by a margin of about 80,000 votes cast across three states, winning each of the decisive states by less than one percentage point. So even a slight influence could have plausibly made the difference, though we’ll never be able to prove it one way or another.
While saying that Russia clearly tried to help Trump doesn’t inherently call into question the legitimacy of Trump’s win —earlier Friday, the White House made sure to emphasize that it’s not making that case — it’s not hard to connect the dots. And Trump and his party know it. The Post’s report cited Republicans who expressed skepticism about the available evidence when presented with it in September, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
In addition, any GOP effort to dig into the matter risks antagonizing the president-elect, who has said flatly that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered with the election, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary. And he’s proved more than willing to go after fellow Republicans who run afoul of him.
On the other hand, if Republicans play down the issue, they risk giving a pass to an antagonistic foreign power that significant majorities of Americans and members of Congress do not trust and which, if the evidence is accurate, wields significant power to wage successful cyberwarfare with the United States.
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Trump has shown that he’s committed to seeing the best in Russia, and it’s unlikely another report from the “dishonest media” citing anonymous sources is going to change his mind.
And Trump has every reason to continue to dig in. He doesn’t want to breathe any life into the story line that he owes his election to Russian interference. Trump, after all, is a winner, and the idea that someone else might have won it for him just won’t fly.
Update: A statement from Trump’s transition team, as expected, took a defiant tone about The Post’s report: “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.’”
But for congressional Republicans, the evidence is increasingly getting to the point where they simply can’t ignore it, and some of them are feeling compelled to act — in a way that Trump isn’t likely to embrace.
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Many Republicans are undoubtedly concerned about this. But as long as Trump is holding fast to the idea that this is all made up in an effort to undermine him, this whole thing could reinforce the long-standing chasm within the GOP, with him and his base pitted against establishment Republicans who will (again) be made to look like they’re trying to take down their outsider president-elect. And you can bet that’ll be how Trump pitches it.
It all presents a possibly inauspicious start for the GOP Congress in the Trump era: a potential Trump vs. congressional-Republicans-battle over the same election that surprisingly installed him as president.
Greg Sargent speculates about What happens if Russia did interfere in our election?