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Pressure Mounts on McConnell for Special Committee on Russian Election Hacks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. // Susan Walsh/AP

Pressure mounted over the weekend on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to appoint a special committee to investigate charges of Russian election hacking.

A bipartisan quartet of senators called on the majority leader to appoint a special investigatory committee in a Sunday letter, arguing that following regular Senate procedure could be a hindrance to the investigation rather than an asset.

“Cyber is the rare kind of all-encompassing challenge for which the Congress' jurisdictional boundaries are an impediment to sufficient oversight and legislative action,” the senators including incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., wrote.

Portions of the cyber issue touch the committees on Intelligence, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Commerce, Judiciary, and Homeland Security, the senators note. Jurisdiction is similarly complicated in the House, where Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, plans to push for consolidation during the next Congress.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., also signed the letter.

The proposed select committee would investigate both the specific allegations of Russian hacking during the 2016 election and “tackle the issue of cyber in its entirety” including developing “comprehensive recommendations and, as necessary, new legislation to modernize our nation's laws, governmental organization, and related practices to meet this challenge,” the senators wrote.

McConnell endorsed a congressional investigation into Russian hacks of Democratic political targets in a news conference earlier this month but insisted it should be managed within the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Meanwhile, on the House side, Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes is battling on two fronts—opposing calls for a special Intelligence Committee investigation into the election-year hacking, which he says would duplicate existing investigations, and scuffling with intelligence leaders for more information about Russia’s alleged intentions in launching the hacking operations.

Multiple outlets have reported the FBI and CIA have concluded Russia’s goal was to win the contest for President-elect Donald Trump, though those agencies have only publicly stated Russia aimed to destabilize the election.  

“I am alarmed that supposedly new information continues to leak to the media but has not been provided to Congress,” Nunes said in a Friday statement.

Nunes’ committee will visit the FBI and CIA as well as the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency as part of its investigation of the hacking allegations next Congress, Nunes said.

Trump has steadfastly refused to accept the intelligence community’s verdict that Russia was behind the hacks, saying the conclusion is politically motivated.

That position has made it harder for President Barack Obama and members of Congress to make their case that Russia should pay a price for the hacks and has given the United States' former Cold War adversary a cloak of deniability, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday on ABC’s This Week.

“This was unprecedented, and for the president-elect to continue to give the Russians deniability is deeply damaging to the country,” Schiff said.

He also signaled that more information about Russia’s goals may come out in a broader assessment of election hacking dating back to 2008 Obama has ordered completed before he leaves office.

Obama steered clear of criticizing Trump’s position on the hacks during an end-of-year news conference Friday but said the issue was affected by “carryover from the election season.”

The White House has presented Trump’s transition team with its conclusions about the hacking attribution, he said.

“My hope is that the president-elect is going to similarly be concerned with making sure that we don’t have potential foreign influence in our election process,” Obama said, adding, “I think it is very important for us to distinguish between the politics of the election and the need for us, as a country, both from a national security perspective but also in terms of the integrity of our election system and our democracy, to make sure that we don’t create a political football here.”

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