WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — Old school Republicans in the Senate aren’t sitting idly by as their party’s new leader Donald Trump bashes the intelligence community and questions findings that Russia hacked American entities and operatives in order to influence the 2016 election.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., used his power as Senate Armed Services Committee chairman on Thursday to launch a probe of Russia’s role in the hacking.
“Every American should be alarmed by Russia’s attacks on our nation,” McCain declared.
The former Republican presidential nominee and longtime senator continued, “There is no national security interest more vital to the United States of America than the ability to hold free and fair elections without foreign interference.”
Intel chiefs stand firm
Testifying before the committee were Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre and the National Security Agency’s Michael Rogers.
Clapper fielded the majority of inquiries and warned, “Russia has clearly assumed an even more aggressive cyber posture by increasing cyber espionage operations, leaking data stolen from these operations and targeting critical infrastructure systems.”
With respect to repeated mocking by President-elect Trump of their findings, Clapper bristled, “There’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”
Consider that a line in the sand.
“I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper told senators, indicating that he will “push the envelope” as much as possible in public disclosures of Russian involvement.
Independent inquiry blocked
GOP congressional leaders are acquiescing to Mr. Trump’s position for now, spurning calls for an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the cyber espionage effort purportedly directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not scheduled any votes to approve such a commission.
In the House, Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., refuses to even use his own perch to investigate the Russia hacks.
Rank-and-file House GOP members displayed varying degrees of urgency and certainty.
“I’d like to see a little bit more information on that specific commission; I’d also like to see more information on the actual hacking, itself,” said Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va.
Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., supports a an independent or committee-based investigation, saying, “I’m okay with doing it either way; it needs to be investigated. I’m absolutely convinced the Chinese [and] the Russians are hacking us.”
Trump vs. Intel community
America’s 17 intelligence agencies have unanimously fingered Russia in the scandal-stirring leaks of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
The FBI and CIA have gone further in suggesting that the end goal was to see Trump defeat Clinton in the November election, considering him more pliable than Clinton.
Given the perceived implications, Mr. Trump has thus far rejected the intel community’s findings and continues to suggest China or a “400-pound man sitting on a bed” were just as likely the culprits behind the weaponized cyber intrusions.
Reports leaked on Wednesday that the Trump team has discussed cutbacks at CIA headquarters and downsizing, or even eliminating, the DNI role.
Sean Spicer, spokesman for the president-elect, said there’s “no truth” to these stories. On Thursday afternoon, word broke that former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., will serve as the new director of national intelligence.
Just prior to Thursday’s Senate hearing, the first in a series planned by McCain, Mr. Trump tweeted that he’s a “big fan” of the intelligence community, ignoring months of statements and tweets mocking the very same agencies.
On Friday, he will receive another private intelligence briefing on Russia’s cyber warfare against the United States.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales