Democrats call for in­quiry

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAROUN DEMIR­JIAN karoun.demir­jian@wash­

Law­mak­ers want an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the CIA’s as­sess­ment.

Se­nior Demo­cratic law­mak­ers are call­ing for a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the CIA’s claims that Rus­sia at­tempted to tilt the elec­tion to Don­ald Trump, de­mand­ing that the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity turn over all its ev­i­dence to Congress.

In­com­ing Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) re­leased a strongly worded state­ment Satur­day morn­ing, say­ing CIA con­clu­sions that Rus­sia’s hack­ing and other elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence had the goal of elect­ing Trump — first re­ported Fri­day night in The Wash­ing­ton Post — are “stun­ning and not sur­pris­ing.”

“That any coun­try could be med­dling in our elec­tions should shake both po­lit­i­cal par­ties to their core,” Schumer stated. “Se­nate Democrats will join with our Repub­li­can col­leagues next year to de­mand a con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion and hear­ings to get to the bot­tom of this.”

Schumer’s de­mands were echoed by out­go­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry M. Reid (DNev.), who charged that FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey was aware of the in­tel­li­gence about Rus­sia’s aims be­fore the elec­tion and de­lib­er­ately kept it pri­vate. Reid called on Comey to re­sign.

“Of course. Yes,” he said when asked whether the FBI direc­tor should go. “He won’t. He has his term there. And I’m sure the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, they should like him, he helped them get elected,” Reid said on MSNBC.

Democrats im­me­di­ately em­braced the con­clu­sions of the secret CIA report, which as­serted that the hack­ing of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee emails — and their re­lease to Wik­iLeaks — was the work of Rus­sian op­er­a­tives with ties to the govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, all in­tended to help elect Trump.

Key Repub­li­cans did not au­to­mat­i­cally ac­cept that con­clu­sion, de­spite many of them be­liev­ing that Rus­sia was be­hind the DNC hacks and other elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. For Repub­li­cans, giv­ing cre­dence to the CIA as­sess­ment prob­a­bly would cause them to anger Trump even be­fore the pres­i­dent-elect has been in­au­gu­rated.

Party lead­ers be­gan de­flect­ing that sort of in­tel­li­gence well be­fore the elec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials present dur­ing a Septem­ber CIA brief­ing for con­gres­sional lead­ers, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) ex­pressed doubts about the in­tel­li­gence ty­ing the Rus­sian hacks to Trump.

McCon­nell did not com­ment af­ter the news report sur­faced, but his spokesman, David Popp, called the al­le­ga­tions “dis­turb­ing.”

“I do not have any read­out of what did or didn’t hap­pen in a clas­si­fied brief­ing,” Popp said. “But ob­vi­ously any for­eign breach of our cy­ber­se­cu­rity mea­sures is dis­turb­ing, and the White House has just an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to see if that has oc­curred and will for­mu­late a re­sponse.”

Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he could not be cer­tain of the CIA’s claims given its track record, echo­ing Trump’s re­ac­tion to the report in which he said: “Th­ese are the same peo­ple that said Sad­dam Hus­sein had weapons of mass de­struc­tion.”

“I’d have to have a brief­ing be­fore I could judge it and who’s do­ing it,” McCain said in an in­ter­view late Fri­day night, once The Post’s report was pub­lished. “But the CIA has not al­ways been ex­actly right, to say the least.”

The CIA’s con­clu­sions that Rus­sia hacked the elec­tion to aid Trump has put Repub­li­cans in a po­lit­i­cal bind. On the one hand, the charges of elec­tion hack­ing are a per­fect, gal­va­niz­ing plat­form from which to go af­ter Rus­sia for what they see as a global pat­tern of dan­ger­ous med­dling, not just in the Amer­i­can elec­tions, but also in the wars in Ukraine and Syria. But on the other hand, they now risk un­earthing more ev­i­dence giv­ing cre­dence to the charges that Trump’s cam­paign ben­e­fited from the hacks. Such ev­i­dence could se­ri­ously un­der­mine the pres­i­dent-elect be­fore he takes of­fice and be­yond.

Other Repub­li­can sen­a­tors also ex­pressed doubts about the CIA’s charge.

“I’d be very con­cerned if a for­eign govern­ment were do­ing that — we don’t have any ev­i­dence of that yet, and I haven’t seen the CIA report, so I’ll re­serve judg­ment,” Sen. David Per­due (R-Ga.) said late Fri­day night.

And still oth­ers are ques­tion­ing why any­one is talk­ing about Rus­sian hack­ing at all. “All this ‘news’ of Rus­sian hack­ing: it has been go­ing on for years,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn (RTex.) tweeted Satur­day morn­ing. “Se­ri­ous, but hardly news.”

Nonethe­less, even be­fore the lat­est report, McCain and other se­nior Repub­li­can sen­a­tors were plan­ning to launch a wide-rang­ing, co­or­di­nated probe into al­leged Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tions in the next Congress. Such an ef­fort could run di­rectly counter to Trump’s for­eign pol­icy plans, in­clud­ing a re­peat­edly stated de­sire to warm re­la­tions with Putin’s Rus­sia.

McCain’s Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in­tends to es­tab­lish a ded­i­cated sub­com­mit­tee to probe cy­berthreats that will hold hear­ings on the how the United States would re­spond to an at­tack as well as in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of elec­tion hack­ing.

“Every­body that I know, un­clas­si­fied, has said that the Rus­sians in­ter­fered in this elec­tion. They hacked into my cam­paign in 2008; is it a sur­prise to any­one?” McCain said. “Ev­ery ex­pert I re­spect said the Rus­sians en­gaged in that cam­paign.”

Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.) has said: “I’m go­ing af­ter Rus­sia in ev­ery way you can go af­ter Rus­sia . . . . I think they did in­ter­fere with our elec­tions, and I want Putin per­son­ally to pay the price.”

He in­tends to spear­head leg­is­la­tion and hold a se­ries of in­ves­tiga­tive hear­ings next year into “Rus­sia’s mis­ad­ven­tures through­out the world,” in­clud­ing its in­ter­ven­tion in the elec­tions.

“Clearly a lot of the in­for­ma­tion was se­lec­tively leaked,” Gra­ham said. “Rather than try to tank the elec­tion in terms of an out­come, I want to go af­ter the coun­try that dared to in­ter­fere.”

Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair Bob Corker (RTenn.), who had been a can­di­date for Trump’s sec­re­tary of state be­fore the tran­si­tion team re­port­edly moved to­ward ExxonMo­bil chief ex­ec­u­tive Rex Tiller­son, said early Satur­day that “we’re go­ing to do the work that we need to do to un­der­stand what’s hap­pened.”

He noted that other sen­a­tors, par­tic­u­larly those on the Se­nate’s Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, had ap­proached him on the Se­nate floor dur­ing the last roll call votes of the ses­sion to “share their con­cerns” about the is­sue of Rus­sian hack­ing.

“They can tell it’s war­ranted and that I should, like other com­mit­tees are do­ing, pay a lot of at­ten­tion to the is­sue,” Corker said.

But the Ten­nessee Repub­li­can de­clined to com­ment di­rectly about hacks po­ten­tially fa­vor­ing Trump.

Trump is re­ly­ing on Repub­li­can doubts to avoid spec­u­la­tion that his win was di­rectly aided by Moscow as he con­tin­ues to as­sem­ble his Cab­i­net.

In a re­cent in­ter­view for Time, Trump said he doesn’t be­lieve Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the elec­tion, rea­son­ing: “It could be Rus­sia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” He called the steady stream of al­le­ga­tions ty­ing Rus­sian hack­ing to his cam­paign “not a talk­ing point, a laugh­ing point.”

“Why not get along with Rus­sia? And they can help us fight ISIS . . . and they’re ef­fec­tive and smart,” Trump also said dur­ing that in­ter­view.

Such state­ments could cause Se­nate Repub­li­cans to take a sec­ond look at Trump’s nom­i­nees. Se­nate Democrats can­not fil­i­buster Trump’s Cab­i­net picks, but they are now likely to face more ques­tion­ing about any ties to Rus­sia.

Tiller­son, who has been dec­o­rated with Rus­sia’s Or­der of Friend­ship, is caus­ing special con­cern.

“Let’s put it this way: If you re­ceived an award from the Krem­lin, or­der of friend­ship, then we’re gonna have some talkin’. We’ll have some ques­tions,” Gra­ham said. “I don’t want to pre­judge the guy, but that’s a bit un­nerv­ing.”

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