Four influential Democratic and GOP senators on Sunday amplified their call for a special investigation into foreign cyberwarfare, defying Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has already ruled out a select panel to probe Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) urged McConnell in a new letter to create a Senate select committee on cyber, a panel that Schumer said would focus not only on Russian meddling but also potential threats from other countries, including China and Iran.
“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” the four senators wrote to McConnell in the Sunday letter. “Cybersecurity is the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge, and we must take a comprehensive approach to meet this challenge effectively.”
McCain had previously called for a select committee specifically examining the Russian involvement into the election. But the Sunday call — amplified through Sunday show appearances, a news conference and finally, a joint letter — renews the scrutiny of the Russian interference that President-elect Donald Trump has dismissed as “ridiculous” and “just another excuse” from Democrats who lost on Nov. 8.
“We don’t want this investigation to be political, like the Benghazi investigation. We don’t want it to just be finger pointing at one person or another,” Schumer said during his own news conference in New York. “We want to find out what the Russians are doing to our political system and what other foreign governments might do to our political system, and then figure out a way to stop it. Only a select committee can do it.”
During an appearance Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain stressed that a select committee is needed not only to determine what happened this year, but also to look at “the whole issue of cyberwarfare, where we have no strategy or no policy.”
“It is one area where they have an advantage, perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us,” McCain said.
For McCain and Graham, in particular, their unrelenting pressure for a select committee investigating the Russian meddling in the U.S. election is in direct contrast to their own Senate leader. McConnell has condemned the Russian interference and backs a congressional investigation into the matter but has stressed that work should be in the hands of the Senate Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Burr released his own statement on Friday outlining how his committee will investigate the cyber intrusions, including plans for a series of public and classified hearings on the issue.
A spokesman for McConnell on Sunday referred to the majority leader’s previous remarks on the issue but said he would review the latest letter.
Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will also hold a classified briefing and an open hearing next month on Russian interference.
But McCain, Graham, Reed and Schumer — a group that includes respected national security voices from both parties, as well as the incoming Senate minority leader — insist that with too many committees having the authority to investigate cybersecurity, one select panel is needed to cut across all of them.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, Intelligence Committee, Judiciary Committee, Commerce Committee, and Homeland Security Committee all have some jurisdiction over cybersecurity issues. And “cyber is the rare kind of all-encompassing challenge for which the Congress’s jurisdictional boundaries are an impediment to sufficient oversight and legislative action,” the senators wrote to McConnell.
In New York, Schumer flatly said an Intelligence Committee investigation was “not good enough.”
“First, things could be left out. There could be holes that no committee covers,” Schumer said during his news conference. “Second, we could get contradictory information. … And third, the existing committees are very, very busy.”
McCain and Graham are also going against the views of Trump, who has repeatedly underscored his disagreement with the intelligence community’s view that the Russians interfered in the election. Both the FBI and the CIA have concluded that the Russian cyber-intrusions was meant to aid Trump’s bid for the White House, according to The Washington Post.
When asked by host Jake Tapper whether he is worried about Trump’s relations with Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, McCain said he hopes that Trump will “quickly understand what the Russians are all about and that is they are ahead of us in many respects on the whole issue of cyberwarfare.”
“There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was a cyberattack,” McCain said on CNN. “The question is now how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do, and so far we’ve been totally paralyzed.”
In the senators’ view, a new select committee on cybersecurity would have two main tasks: a “top-to-bottom” review of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as writing a package of cybersecurity legislation that would “address the gaps in our current statutory regime that governs our cyber laws.
“We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognize that this is an extraordinary request. However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem,” the senators wrote. “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to address this unique challenge.”
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