15 top U.S. officials call for bipartisan investigation into Russian election hacks

A letter to Congress includes officials from three administrations.

Feb 28, 2020, 6:03 pm*

Tech

Amrita Khalid 

Amrita Khalid

Photo via Dmitry Dzhus

A group of former Bush, Clinton, and Obama administration officials on Wednesday called for an independent investigation outside of Congress into Russia’s alleged attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

A group of 15 officials from the defense and foreign service sectors signed on to a letter in support of a bill that would create a commission of independent experts appointed by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, Buzzfeed reported. 

Those who signed on to the letter included former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; and Lee Hamilton, the former Chair of the 9/11 Commission

“Some have questioned whether the Russian government, despite the conclusion of 17 of our intelligence agencies, was really responsible for the hacks,” the letter reads. “Such doubts only reinforce why an independent, inquiry should occur outside of Congress. Furthermore, it is essential that this commission be established outside of Congress, as that is the only way to ensure that the investigation is comprehensive and not siloed within a certain congressional committee’s jurisdiction.”

Republican leaders House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for Congress to investigate revelations by intelligence officials of Russia’s alleged efforts to tamper with the election. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have vowed to investigate Russia’s election intervention to its fullest extent.  

But obstacles lie ahead, the most formidable of which is President-Elect Donald Trump himself, who has dismissed U.S. intelligence findings that Russia infiltrated the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, campaign manager for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump on Tuesday tweeted that an intelligence briefing he agreed to was rescheduled to Friday, a claim that senior intelligence officials tell NBC News was false

Meanwhile, there’s little appetite in the Republican-led House to take on the question of Russian hacking. Both Republican lawmakers and Trump transition officials have accused President Barack Obama and Democratic members of Congress of politicizing the alleged cyberattacks by the Russian government. House Government Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his panel would not look into the hacking

Chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calf.), said his committee has already been investigating cyber attacks into elections and will not open a separate investigation for the Russian hacks. Nunes was forced to cancel a Dec. 15 hearing on cyber attacks in the presidential election after the intelligence community declined to testify. 

HPSCI has plans to visit the FBI, NSA, CIA, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in January so members could “further investigate” the issue. 

Currently, the only efforts by Congress to investigate hacks of the DNC and Podesta are in the Senate. One investigation will be conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, lead by Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.). McCain will lead a separate investigation by a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday will also hold a closed-door briefing on the Russian hacking as well as Russia’s relationship with the U.S.

The CIA concluded in a secret memo reported by the Washington Post  last month that individuals with ties to the Russian government leaked emails to WikiLeaks from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The FBI and DHS released a joint report on Dec. 29 that laid out the methods of two Russian intelligence agencies, known as GRU and FSB, used to “compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities.” 

Obama has issued sanctions against nine Russian entities or officials, expelled a group of 35 Russian diplomats out of the country, and shut down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York in response to the revelations about Russia. 

The authors of Wednesday’s letter urged the independent inquiry to “occur immediately.”

“Anything less than a swift investigation will leave us vulnerable to another attack and, possibly worse, permit and normalize future interference,” they wrote.

House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calf.) have introduced a bill that would establish a “National Commission on Foreign Interference in the 2016 Election.”  

The commission would consist of 12 members appointed by Republican and Democratic leadership in both chambers of Congress. It would investigate hacks into the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Podesta’s emails, as well as those of former Secretary of State Colin Powell

Furthermore, the commission would investigate claims by federal investigators that Russia hacked into voting systems in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona

Read the full letter below:

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*First Published: Jan 4, 2017, 1:40 pm