McConnell, Ryan Back CIA After Trump Attacks Hacking ProbeBy
GOP leaders caution against casting doubt on election outcome
‘The Russians are not our friends,’ McConnell tells reporters
The two top Republicans in Congress offered strong support for the intelligence community Monday, in sharp contrast to President-elect Donald Trump’s attack on the CIA after reports the agency found that the Russian government tried to help him win the presidency.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had the “highest confidence” in the intelligence agencies, while House Speaker Paul Ryan praised them for “working diligently” to take on cyber threats from foreign governments. But both leaders also warned against using the issue for partisan gain or casting doubt on the outcome of the election.
McConnell singled out the Central Intelligence Agency for praise and said the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services panels will investigate findings by intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into e-mails and computers used in the presidential campaign.
“Any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing and I strongly condemn any such efforts,” McConnell told reporters. He added later, “The Russians are not our friends.”
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the CIA has told senators that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government was actively seeking to help Trump win the election -- a step beyond an earlier finding that the goal was to undermine the credibility of the U.S. political process.
“Any intervention by Russia is especially problematic because, under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests,” Ryan said in a statement Monday. “As we work to protect our democracy from foreign influence, we should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election.”
President Barack Obama explained his reasons for ordering a full review of the evidence of Russian hacking in an appearance to be aired Monday night on Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah."
“The reason that I called for a review is really to just gather all the threads of the investigations, the intelligence work that has been done over many months, and put it in a single document that can be shared with members of Congress, relevant intelligent agencies, that can be shared with the transition team so that they understand what exactly happened and so that the public and our elected representatives going forward can find ways to prevent this kind of interference from having an impact on elections in the future,” he said, according to excerpts release by Comedy Central.
Trump’s team attacked the CIA for its findings and scoffed at its credibility, blaming the agency for faulty intelligence analysis that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Trump piled on with a tweet on Monday.
“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller didn’t comment directly on McConnell’s remarks when asked by reporters on a conference call Monday, but blasted the reports about the CIA’s findings.
“What this is is an attempt to try to de-legitimize President-elect Trump’s win.” he said. “That really seems to be what’s going on here.”
The White House defended the intelligence community Monday, with press secretary Josh Earnest saying spy agencies are staffed by “patriots.”
“President Obama has benefited enormously from their work, their expertise, their advice, and their service to the country," Earnest told reporters. “I’m confident the president-elect would benefit from that advice if he remains open to it.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain and the incoming Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said on Sunday in an unusual joint statement that the Senate would investigate Russia’s interference in the presidential election.
McCain and Schumer, joined by Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.”
A small group of Electoral College members, including Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on Monday requested a briefing from the intelligence community on the possible scope of Russian interference in the U.S. election. On Dec. 19, the electors meet across the country to formally select the president and vice president.
The allegations concerning Russia have taken on new significance now that Trump is considering Exxon Mobil Corp. chief Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Tillerson is known for having ties to Putin, and the oil chief was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship, a high civilian honor given to distinguished foreign nationals. As recently as 2015 he visited with officials in Putin’s inner circle.
If Trump does nominate Tillerson, the Russian allegations could pose problems for his Senate confirmation, even for some Republicans.
“I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an Order of Friendship award from Putin -- then we’ll have some questions,” Graham said in a statement over the weekend. “I don’t want to prejudge the guy but that’s a bit unnerving.”
On Monday, Schumer made clear Democrats also would question Tillerson’s Russian ties.
"Every one of these nominees, and particularly a guy like Tillerson, needs a thorough, thorough hearing," he said on CBS. "He’ll be questioned thoroughly should he be the nominee, and all of these allegations and talks about his closeness with Putin will come forward."
McConnell declined to comment on the potential nomination of Tillerson, saying he wouldn’t discuss a "phantom nominee."
— With assistance by Ben Brody, Justin Sink, Jennifer Jacobs, and Laura Litvan