A House Intelligence Committee inquiry into Russian cyber aggression during the 2016 election will include possible links between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, committee leaders said Wednesday.
The investigation will also cover leaks of classified information held by the intelligence community, according to a joint statement from Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
President Donald Trump said he planned to ask congressional intelligence committees to investigate those leaks in a tweet prior to his inauguration.
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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., previously pledged to investigate possible links between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, which were alleged in an unverified report created by a former British spy. Nunes had not previously made that commitment.
House investigators also want to review documentation from intelligence agencies’ investigations at the committee’s Capitol Hill offices rather than at the agencies, according to the joint statement from Schiff and Nunes, a demand that could cause friction with intelligence leaders.
“This issue is not about party, but about country,” the statement reads. “The committee will continue to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
Schiff renewed a call earlier Wednesday for a 9/11 Commission-style independent review into Russian government-backed election meddling at an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress.
Congressional Republicans, who have declined to endorse such a commission so far, will come around eventually, Schiff argued.
“My GOP colleagues are not at the point, apart from [Sens. John] McCain and [Lindsey] Graham, of willingness to confront the president,” Schiff said. “That will only last so long … I think, after a suitable honeymoon period, there will be some Republicans who will find their voice and express alarm at our playing any kind of a supporting role to the Russian propagation of autocracy around the world.”
Schiff and other Democrats, including Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been ramping up pressure on Republican colleagues to break with Trump on the election hacking since he took office.
Trump denied for many months that Russia was responsible for breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign that later leaked at WikiLeaks and elsewhere.
Trump acknowledged the Russian attribution in a press conference after his election but conflated the breach with other nation-state-backed hacks, especially the allegedly China-linked breach of sensitive security clearance documents about more than 20 million current and former federal employees and their families at the Office of Personnel Management.
Schiff criticized that conflation Wednesday, saying it plays into the hands of adversary nations that wish to conflate different types of malicious cyber activity.
U.S. intelligence officials have long argued traditional spying for national security reasons such as the OPM breach—and which the U.S. also engages in—should be separated from influence operations such as the DNC email releases or commercial espionage such as Chinese theft of companies’ intellectual property and trade secrets.
Schiff also criticized Trump for making numerous allegations without evidence since his election, including unverified allegations that millions voted illegally during the 2016 election. Such allegations will severely damage the president’s credibility if and when he needs to make a case to the American people and allies based on classified intelligence, he said.
“Our new president is doing deep damage to himself and to our country,” Schiff said. “He’s doing it in his willingness to make up facts as he goes along.”
Also on Wednesday, Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced legislation establishing a Senate Select Committee on Cybersecurity whose jurisdiction would extend far beyond the Russian election hacking investigation.
The committee would oversee all cybersecurity and cyberspace issues, which are currently split among numerous committees and subcommittees, especially the Senate Intelligence, Homeland Security, Armed Services and Commerce committees.
The committee would be composed of the chairs and ranking members of those committees plus the Senate Appropriations, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees along with five additional members chosen by Senate leadership, Gardner and Coons said.