The president-elect calls intelligence reports of election meddling ‘ridiculous.’ But prominent senators from both parties disagree.
Influential senators from both parties amplified calls for an independent investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, setting up a clash with President-elect Donald Trump over U.S. policy toward Russia and potentially his pick for secretary of state.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a joint statement Sunday with the incoming Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and top Armed Services Committee Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island that Russian interference in the election “should alarm every American.” They said Congress must investigate further without allowing it to become a partisan issue.
But in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump again bluntly dismissed reports of Russian meddling, calling them “ridiculous” and an attempt to undermine his victory. At the same time, Trump’s incoming chief of staff suggested the president-elect would not oppose congressional inquiries.
Still, the competing statements from Trump and the bipartisan group of senators sets the stage for a possible showdown over how far Congress goes to investigate Russia’s apparent interference in the election. Other Republicans on Sunday joined the calls for a probe or cast doubt on Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil CEO with close ties to Vladimir Putin who is reportedly in line to be selected as secretary of state.
The joint statement from the group of prominent senators from both parties will make it difficult for congressional leaders to dismiss the issue.
“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 cyberattacks,” Schumer, Reed, McCain and Graham said in the joint statement.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” they added. “The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”
Schumer separately had called for a congressional probe into Russia’s influence in the election, saying Saturday that Democrats would continue to press for one when the new Congress convenes next year. And McCain flatly disagreed with Trump on the issue.
“I don’t know what to make of [Trump’s comments], because it’s clear the Russians interfered,” McCain said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Facts are stubborn things.”
McCain predicted that a congressional investigation would likely be lengthy and said that in an “ideal world,” he would prefer a select committee on the matter, made up of key committee leaders on Capitol Hill. After declining to engage at length with Trump’s policy stances and controversial remarks for much of this year, McCain is emerging again as a lead foil to the incoming president on national security matters.