Wednesday 23 August 2017

Republican leaders back Russia hacking probes

Donald Trump has called the CIA's hacking contention 'ridiculous'
Donald Trump has called the CIA's hacking contention 'ridiculous'
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: 'The Russians are not our friends' (AP)

Top Republicans in the US Congress have backed investigations into the CIA's belief that Russia meddled in the election to help Donald Trump win the presidency - suggesting potential battles ahead with the incoming commander in chief over Moscow and US intelligence.

"The Russians are not our friends," declared Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, as party leaders steered towards a path contrasting starkly with the president-elect's belittling dismissal of the spy agency's assessment and his past praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Senate's intelligence panel, led by Richard Burr, will conduct a cross-party inquiry, according to Mr McConnell, who also expressed support for a related probe by the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John McCain.

Though declining to say whether he believes Russia tried tilting the election towards Mr Trump, Mr McConnell said "I hope that those who are going to be in positions of responsibility in the new administration share my view" about Moscow.

Shortly afterwards, House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan released a statement backing an investigation the House Intelligence Committee has already started on cyber-threats posed by foreign countries and extremist groups.

He called any Russian intervention "especially problematic because under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests".

Underscoring the possible collisions ahead between Mr Trump and the men leading his party in Congress, Mr McConnell and Mr Ryan struck tones markedly more confrontational toward Russia than he has.

On Sunday Mr Trump called the CIA's contention "ridiculous" and blamed the disclosures concerning its assessment on Democrats who he said were embarrassed over losing last month's election.

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes released a letter on Monday to national intelligence director James Clapper, complaining that recent reports of the CIA's conclusion clashed with Mr Clapper's prior statement that he lacked "good insight" about the connection between Russian hacking of Democratic campaign documents and their release by WikiLeaks.

Mr Nunes requested a briefing on the subject for this week.

The Republican leaders expressed their views after a weekend in which Mr Trump also said he would not need daily intelligence briefings, a staple of presidents' days for decades and a flouting of a convention common for presidential transitions.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump continued his cavalcade of meetings in his Trump Tower offices in New York on Monday with potential appointees for his new administration and other leading Republican, congressional and corporate figures. Among them was Carly Fiorina, who unsuccessfully vied with Mr Trump this year for their party's nomination.

Ms Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, was there to discuss national security issues and is seen by some Trump advisers as a candidate to be director of national intelligence, overseeing the government's 17 spy agencies.

She chaired an external CIA advisory board under George Bush but has not worked for the federal government.

Ms Fiorina said her conversation with Mr Trump included "hacking, whether it's Chinese hacking or purported Russian hacking".

Others meeting Mr Trump included moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, number three House of Representatives Republican leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and former Texas governor Rick Perry, another Republican presidential contender whom Mr Trump defeated.

The campaign chairman for defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged the Obama administration on Monday to reveal what it knows about any Russian efforts to help Mr Trump win.

John Podesta, whose emails were stolen and posted online, said the administration "owes it to the American people" to release details of the intrusions, which included the hacking of Democratic Party files.

Mr Podesta said the Clinton campaign also supported a call by 10 of the 538 members of the Electoral College for Mr Clapper to provide information that intelligence agencies have gathered on the subject.

All 10 are unlikely to vote for Mr Trump when the Electoral College meets next Monday. Nine are Democrats and Texas Republican Chris Suprun has said he will not vote for Mr Trump.

Other Democrats calling for congressional investigations of Russia's role in the elections include House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

"There must be no equivocation or ignoring the seriousness of the intelligence community's conclusion about Russia's actions," she said.

Mr McConnell said he has "the highest confidence" in US intelligence agencies and said it "defies belief" that Senate Republicans would be reluctant to scrutinise Russian tactics.

He recounted Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, said Baltic nation leaders were nervous about Moscow and pointedly praised Nato, the alliance that Mr Trump criticised repeatedly during his campaign.

"I think we ought to approach all of these issues on the assumption that the Russians do not wish us well," Mr McConnell said.

In a nod to the Trump assertion about Democrats' motives, Mr Ryan said the congressional inquiries "should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election".

As expected, Mr Trump's transition team formally announced he would name Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, 56, to head the White House National Economic Council. The council provides policy advice to the president.

Mr Trump's team also said he had picked General John Kelly, the former head of US Southern Command, to head the Department of Homeland Security.

AP

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