Joseph Marks | Nextgov | December 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

House Intelligence Chairman Opposes Special Election Hacking Probe

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

There’s no value in launching a special inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Monday, pushing up a possible barrier to a broad congressional review.

Numerous Republican and Democratic lawmakers have urged a full congressional inquiry in recent days into the hacks that may have been aimed at aiding Donald Trump’s election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., endorsed an inquiry led by the Senate Intelligence Committee, during a news conference Monday. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., praised the House Intelligence Committee’s work and condemned foreign election meddling but stopped short of endorsing or opposing a broad review.

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“At this time, I do not see any benefit in opening further investigations, which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and intelligence community inquiries,” Nunes said, citing ongoing inquiries at the CIA and FBI as well as a broad review of election-related hacking announced Friday by the Obama administration.

Nunes’ statement came about two hours after the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., urged a joint investigation by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the scale of post-9/11 inquiries.

The stark disagreement between the committee leaders is a sharp break from a largely bipartisan and hawkish approach to cybersecurity under previous leaders Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

The statement also followed a late Friday Washington Post report that the CIA has concluded Russian hacking at the Democratic National Committee and elsewhere was aimed at helping the Trump campaign rather than simply destabilizing the election as previously reported. The report was attributed to anonymous intelligence officials.

President-elect Donald Trump has steadfastly insisted Russia was not responsible for election breaches and said the intelligence community’s determination otherwise in October was politically motivated.

A transition team statement on the Russian hacking claims Friday said “these are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” adding “it’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”

Trump tweeted Monday morning that, if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had won the election and his campaign had claimed Russia supported her, “it would be called a conspiracy theory.” He also tweeted that “unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking.”

Intelligence officials and private sector cyber threat trackers both claim they have become increasingly adept at attribution in cyberspace, though they acknowledge it remains difficult.

McConnell said during a press conference that the Senate Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter” and that the review should be done through regular order rather than a special commission.

He also cited a history of Republican animus toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and argued the Obama administration was too slow to stand up to Russian aggression.

“It defies belief that somehow Republicans in the Senate are reluctant to either review Russian tactics or ignore them,” McConnell said.

Ryan praised Nunes’ committee for “working diligently on cyber threats posed by foreign governments and terrorist organizations” in a statement that also condemned foreign meddling in U.S. elections but stopped short of saying if a congressional investigation should occur and where it should be based.

Numerous other senators have urged a bipartisan investigation into the hacks without getting into details about how it should be accomplished or where it should be located. They include incoming Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.; Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I.; and incoming Intelligence ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va.

House Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the election hacks. 

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