Thursday, January 18, 2018
Politics

GOP leaders defy Trump, call for investigation into Russia election meddling

WASHINGTON — Leading Republican lawmakers have set themselves on a collision course with President-elect Donald Trump with their decision to look deeply into whether Russia interfered with last month's U.S. election.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., finds himself in the spotlight as his Senate Intelligence Committee undertakes to investigate whether Russia engaged in cyberhacking to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave the nod to Burr's committee to pursue an investigation a day after a bipartisan group of senators issued a statement calling for an investigation.

"This simply cannot be a partisan issue," McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Monday, adding that "the Russians are not our friends."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a somewhat less forceful statement, said "any foreign intervention in our elections is entirely unacceptable. And any intervention by Russia is especially problematic because, under President (Vladimir) Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests."

The Trump transition team reacted angrily to the Republican calls for an investigation and its spokesman, Jason Miller, suggested they were an effort to de-legitimize Trump's victory.

Trump took to Twitter to question whether it was even possible to know that the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee computers and the private email of the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign, John Podesta. The results of those hacks led to a steady leak by WikiLeaks of sometimes embarrassing emails throughout the summer and fall.

"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?" he tweeted.

Not everyone thought a new investigation was called for. Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who chairs of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump's transition team, said he doesn't see the need for a new investigation.

But even Nunes indicated he was unhappy about conflicts between the conclusions of the FBI and those of the CIA about aspects of Russia's alleged involvement, including whether the Republican National Committee also was hacked. RNC officials deny their computers were penetrated, but news accounts have quoted officials saying the intelligence community had concluded that they had been. The fact that no pirated material from the RNC has surfaced reportedly was one reason intelligence analysts concluded the Russian goal was to promote a Trump victory.

"I was dismayed that we did not learn earlier, directly from you, about reported conflicting assessments and the CIA's reported revision of information previously conveyed to this committee," Nunes wrote in a letter to James Clapper, director of national intelligence.

White House officials announced last week that Obama had ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to complete an investigation into the allegations before he leaves office Jan. 20.

The ramifications of such an inquiry are far from clear, but the consequences could be stunning — and unprecedented in American politics. While allegations of foreign meddling in other countries' political processes are common, the United States has long believed itself immune from such campaigns.

On Monday, 10 members of the Electoral College, which votes next week to certify Trump's victory, asked for a briefing on the intelligence communities' finding of Russian meddling.

Meanwhile, Trump continued his cavalcade of meetings in his Trump Tower offices in New York on Monday with potential appointees for his new administration and other leading GOP, congressional and corporate figures. Among them was Carly Fiorina, who unsuccessfully vied with Trump this year for their party's nomination.

Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, was there to discuss national security issues and is seen by some Trump advisers as a candidate to be director of national intelligence, overseeing the government's 17 intelligence agencies.

Also:

• As expected, Trump's transition team formally announced he would name Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, 56, to head the White House National Economic Council. The council provides policy advice to the president.

• Trump's team also said he had picked Gen. John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly is a former commander of U.S. Southern Command.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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