Momentum is growing on Capitol Hill for a federal probe into whether Russia played a role in interfering in the U.S. election, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers pledging to investigate Kremlin-backed hacking efforts.
But as President-elect Donald Trump continues to express skepticism over Moscow’s involvement, it’s unclear how far any investigations would go.
House Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would establish a 12-member bipartisan, independent commission to investigate attempts by the Russian government “to use electronic means to influence, interfere with, or sow distrust in this year’s U.S. elections.”
Top U.S. intelligence and homeland security officials accused the Kremlin in October of directing the hack of the Democratic National Committee, which resulted in the embarrassing publication of extensive internal communications among top Democrats on WikiLeaks.
Announcing their plan for a commission, Reps. Eric Swalwell and Elijah E. Cummings said the scope of the investigation into possible Russia’s meddling would include the hacking of the DNC as well as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell; a scan of electoral systems in Arizona, Illinois and Florida; and involvement by any foreign entity in the spread of fake news about the U.S. election.
“While our intelligence agencies have concluded with high confidence that Russia meddled in America’s elections, to what degree and whether other state or nonstate actors were involved remains unresolved,” said Mr. Swalwell, California Democrat. “Americans of all political parties are rightfully worried and deserve answers.”
The commission — which would be empowered to interview witnesses, issue subpoenas, obtain documents and receive public testimony — would have 18 months to issue recommendations to Congress and the president about how to enhance security protections.
The proposal was introduced on the same day that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he plans to lead an inquiry into Russia’s hacking efforts through his leadership role on two subcommittees.
Mr. Graham, who previously had called on Congress to examine the Russian hacks, told CNN on Wednesday that he plans to use his roles on both the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee and the Crime and Terrorism subcommittee to advance an investigation.
While lawmakers seek further information about the extent Russia has sought to influence the U.S. elections, Mr. Trump has expressed skepticism over the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was involved.
“I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered,’” Mr. Trump told Time magazine in an interview published on Wednesday. “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the insinuation that the intelligence community is lying “enormously damaging to the country.”
“Notwithstanding the abundance of evidence that Russia hacked our political institutions during the presidential campaign and dumped documents in an effort to meddle in our political affairs, President-elect Trump’s comments this morning continue to contradict our intelligence professionals and carry water for the Kremlin,” he said.
Democrats for weeks have been calling for additional disclosures about what U.S. intelligence agencies know about Russian attempts to tamper with this year’s election. In the Senate, some have asked for hearings to be convened on the topic, while others have urged the White House to declassify additional details about Moscow’s efforts.
Although some lawmakers have access to classified intelligence, House leaders wrote to President Obama this week requesting a classified briefing on the matter for all their colleagues to ensure lawmakers have “a comprehensive understanding of what the U.S. Intelligence Community knows regarding Russia’s involvement in these actions and attempts to interfere in our election.”
• Andrea Noble can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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