The future top Democrat in the Senate has called for a congressional investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who will succeed the retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as the Senate minority leader in the Congress that convenes in January, has signed on to the demand for a congressional inquiry into the Russian hacking of political targets—including the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign—during the 2016 campaign. “Foreign interference in our elections is a serious issue, and deserves a vigorous investigation,” Schumer tells Mother Jones.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House oversight committee, sent a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee’s chairman, asking that Chaffetz launch an investigation of Russian intervention in the election. This request came two days after the chief of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said a “nation-state”—meaning Russia—had messed in the 2016 elections “to achieve a specific effect.” Rogers was referring to the hacking of Democratic targets and the release of the pilfered information via WikiLeaks. Cummings noted in his letter that Chaffetz had told him that he was “open to considering such an investigation.” But Chaffetz has yet to respond to Cummings, according to a Cummings spokesperson. And a spokeswoman for Chaffetz did not respond to a request for comment.
Talking to reporters earlier this month, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the top House Democrat, said Democrats would demand such a probe: “Something is not right with this picture and I think the American people deserve an investigation into how a foreign government had an impact on our election.” And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was harshly critical of Trump during the campaign, proposed that Congress hold hearings on “Russia’s misadventures throughout the world,” including the DNC hack. “Were they involved in cyberattacks that had a political component to it in our elections?” Graham recently asked.
In August, Harry Reid demanded the FBI investigate “Russian government tampering in our presidential election” and connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow. (In October, he claimed the FBI possessed “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government.) A congressional inquiry would differ from an FBI criminal or counterintelligence investigation in that it could result in public hearings and a public report. An FBI investigation would not necessarily yield any public information, unless it led to an indictment. Any CIA and NSA investigation of Russian hacking would likely remain secret.
Though Democrats have urged a congressional investigation of Moscow’s involvement in the 2016 election, this call has hardly been full-throated. Pelosi has not repeatedly demanded a probe, and Schumer has not yet signaled this as a top priority. The Obama administration issued a statement in October declaring that the “U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” But President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have not said much about the Russian operation or directly voiced support for a public investigation. In October, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “There are a range of responses that are available to the president, and he will consider a response that is proportional.” He added that the president’s decision might never be acknowledged or disclosed.
So with the exception of Cummings’ effort, there has been no fierce push for an investigation that would dig into the covert Russian campaign to affect US politics and that would inform the public about what happened, what investigations were conducted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and what has been done to prevent further meddling in order to ensure the security of US elections.
Yet more than 150 academic experts on cybersecurity, national defense, authoritarian regimes, and free and fair elections have signed a letter requesting a congressional investigation. The letter noted:
We represent a wide range of viewpoints on most issues, but on one point we agree: our polarized political climate must not prevent our elected representatives from doing what is right. In this case, what is right is simple: our country needs a thorough, public Congressional investigation into the role that foreign powers played in the months leading up to November. As representatives of the American people, Congress is best positioned to conduct an objective investigation…With concerns rising on both sides of the political aisle about myriad practices that challenge free and fair elections, a public investigation promises to provide the transparency needed to calm Americans’ fears and restore faith in our political process. As voting American citizens, we know that nothing could be more important for our country.
In his letter to Chaffetz, Cummings wrote, “Elections are the bedrock of our nation’s democracy. Any attempt by a foreign power to undermine them is a direct attack on our core democratic values, and it should chill every Member of Congress and American—red or blue—to the core.” But few legislators are acting as if they are indeed chilled to the core. And Democrats, who were the victims of the hacking attributed to Vladimir Putin’s regime, are generally not in an uproar about the matter. With Republican leaders showing little interest in scrutinizing Russian interference in an election that handed the GOP the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats might have to be more vociferous in their demand for an investigation to have any chance of delivering to the public an explanation of what happened to US democracy in 2016.