The Cable

Republican Senate Leader Calls for Probe into Russia’s Election Meddling

Trump continues to belittle claims Moscow helped his victory.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04:  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) (L) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) prepare to speak to reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. McConnell and his leadership team said they will work to pass a cybersecurity bill before the end of the week when the Senate will break for four weeks.   (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) (L) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) prepare to speak to reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. McConnell and his leadership team said they will work to pass a cybersecurity bill before the end of the week when the Senate will break for four weeks. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Under pressure from his Republican colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed calls for a congressional investigation into Russia’s apparent meddling in the U.S. election on Monday. But he rejected a push by Sen. John McCain and other Russia hawks to establish a special committee to investigate the matter.

“Any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing and I strongly condemn any such efforts,” McConnell said Monday during a press conference at the Capitol.

“The Russians are not our friends,” McConnell said. “The Russians do not wish us well.” He said “it defies belief” that some Senate Republicans are reluctant to “review Russian tactics or ignore them.”

The Kentucky Republican’s comments amount to a rebuke of President-elect Donald Trump, who keeps dismissing reports that Russia intervened in the election to support his candidacy, and denigrating the intelligence agencies that have reached those conclusions. Trump, who picked McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, for secretary of transportation, told Fox News on Sunday that the claims are “just another excuse” by Democrats to explain their election loss. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

McConnell’s remarks come days after reports that the CIA told members of Congress that Russia attempted to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Trump, who stunned the foreign-policy establishment with his open adoration for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail, openly mocked the CIA’s claims, setting up a potential rift between himself and intelligence officers.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” Trump’s transition team said on Friday.

McConnell said the Senate Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter,” but said there was no need for a special panel. “We’re going to follow the regular order. It’s an important subject and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said.

While his call for the intelligence committees to take up the investigation won’t bring as many resources and attention to the issue as a special select committee, it will pave the way for a full, bipartisan investigation into the matter over Trump’s opposition.

During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller parried questions about foreign influence, calling them “an attempt to delegitimize President-elect Trump’s win.”

Miller added that he does not “remember the last time the president-elect and McConnell spoke.”

On Friday, a top White House advisor said President Barack Obama ordered a “full review” of Russian election meddling in order to better be able to avoid future efforts at election cyber-mischief. McConnell said he expected the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will release more information on Russian hacking when it completes its review.

John Bolton, a front-runner for State Department deputy in a Trump administration, suggested the hacking allegations could be a “false flag operation” by the Obama administration during an interview with Fox News on Sunday.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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