Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday announced a Senate intelligence panel will investigate Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election — even as President-elect Donald Trump continued to dismiss reports of foreign foul play.
McConnell, heeding bipartisan calls from incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others for a probe, said the Senate Intelligence Committee, with an assist from the Armed Services Committee, will investigate alleged meddling by Russian operatives.
The announcement of the probe at a Washington, D.C., news conference came after a secret CIA assessment concluded that Russia intervened in the fall election by providing WikiLeaks and other online outlets with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and top Hillary Clinton campaign aides, with the aim of boosting Trump’s standing among voters, according to a report published Friday by The Washington Post.
“Obviously, any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn any such efforts,” said McConnell, the Senate’s top-ranking Republican.
Asked about McConnell’s support for a hacking investigation, Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said reports of Russian interference were “an attempt to delegitimize” Trump’s victory.
Meanwhile on Monday, Trump postponed until next month an announcement planned for Thursday on how he intends to separate himself from his business interests to avoid conflicts of interest, a transition spokeswoman said.
“With so many iconic properties and successful entities, moving the announcement to January ensures the legal team has ample time to implement the proper protocols so his sole focus will remain on the country,” Hope Hicks said in a statement.
Also Monday, Trump formally announced retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as his choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. And Trump wrote on Twitter that he would announce his choice for secretary of state Tuesday morning. Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has met twice with Trump during the past week, has emerged as the leading candidate.
Trump, in a statement to reporters, described the three-star general as a “leader committed to our safety,” citing Kelly’s years serving as commander of the U.S. Southern Command — a post in which he oversaw military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, and the Guantánamo Bay detention center.
On the hacking issue, former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, whose emails were allegedly hacked and posted online in the final weeks of the election, called on the Obama administration to declassify and make public information about the Russian probe.
“This should distress every American,” Podesta said in a statement. “Never before in the history of our republic have we seen such an effort to undermine the bedrock of our democracy.”
President Barack Obama last week ordered a review of Russia’s role in the election to be completed before he leaves office.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday suggested that Trump stood to gain the most from Russia’s reported hacking, saying that GOP or Trump campaign emails were never leaked during the race.
“You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyberactivity,” Earnest said.
Trump cast doubt about the CIA probe.
“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card,” Trump tweeted Monday morning. “It would be called a conspiracy theory!”
The president-elect asked why the allegations were not brought up before the election, even though in October, just a month before Election Day, National Intelligence Director James Clapper issued a statement accusing the Russian government of stealing and releasing the private DNC emails with the intent “to interfere with the U.S. election process.” Clapper’s statement stopped short of claiming their actions were to help Trump.
“Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Schumer told reporters in Manhattan Monday the Senate probe would not be “aimed at one party or another, but just to get the facts,” and said Americans should be concerned about the “devastating” implications of Russia’s reported meddling.