A bipartisan group of four senators is calling for a select committee to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona, Armed Services ranking member Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday that the Senate should establish a temporary committee to investigate the matter. The new committee would also develop comprehensive recommendations to improve cybersecurity.
“We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognize that this is an extraordinary request,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to address this unique challenge.”
Schumer and Reed are Democrats. McCain and Graham are Republicans.
The four senators called on Dec. 11 for an investigation into the issue, following a Washington Post report on the CIA’s assessment that the Russian hacking of the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman was perpetrated to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump, now the president-elect. Trump has rejected the intelligence community's conclusions.
The push for a select committee on this issue could face some resistance from McConnell, who said last week that the Intelligence Committee can sufficiently investigate the issue.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which I and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee sit as ex-officio members, is more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “Sen. Schumer will soon join us on the committee, and he can review this matter through the regular order.”
Schumer told reporters in New York that McConnell’s statement that the Intelligence Committee could conduct the investigation was “not good enough.”
Schumer said conflicting committee jurisdictions could leave holes in the investigation, and different committees could get contradicting information from the CIA and FBI. Schumer also said the current Senate committees will be busy vetting and conducting confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees.
In their letter, the four senators made a similar argument, noting six committees have jurisdiction over cyber issues.
“Despite the good work that these and other committees have done on their own, cyber is the rare kind of all-encompassing challenge for which the Congress’ jurisdictional boundaries are an impediment to sufficient oversight and legislative action,” the senators wrote. “Only a select committee that is time-limited, cross-jurisdictional, and purpose-driven can address the challenge of cyber.”
McCain tried to make his case for a select committee to investigate the Russian hacking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning.
“We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election,” McCain said. “There’s no doubt [Russians] were interfering and there’s no doubt that it was cyberattacks. The question now is how much and what damage, and what should the United States do?”
McCain also called for another select committee focused on cyberwarfare, arguing that the the United States has “no strategy and no policy.” McCain said cyberwarfare is “perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us.”
Sen. Cory Gardner has also called for a new committee to be focused on cybersecurity. In a Dec. 12 statement, the Colorado Republican cited a Congressional Research Service report that noted that there are 19 committees between the House and Senate that have held cybersecurity hearings. Gardner said a new committee “would be narrowly focused on providing oversight of our strategy to protect sensitive data, defend our networks, and to deter malicious cyber actors.”
Select committees are established for specific purposes and can expire, such as the committee that investigated the Watergate scandal. The current Intelligence and Ethics Committees are also select committees. The Senate must approve the establishment of new committees.
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