WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump is the business titan who has spoken appreciatively of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republican Sen. John McCain is the tough-talking national security hawk who warns that Russian interference in the U.S. election threatens to “destroy democracy.”
McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on Sunday joined Democrats in calling for a special select committee to investigate foreign cyberattacks, putting him at odds not only with the incoming GOP president but with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who favors allowing the Intelligence committee to take the lead on the inquiry.
“We need a select committee. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election,” McCain said. “There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was cyberattacks. The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.”
Trump calls reports of Russian hacking “ridiculous” and his transition team dismissed the CIA assessment, saying it was the work of the same people who claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
CIA Director John Brennan has said the intelligence community is in agreement that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, though there’s no evidence Moscow succeeded in helping Trump win. But the charge, along with Trump’s selection of a potential secretary of state with business ties to Russia, has divided a GOP riven by a fierce presidential primary and Trump’s refusal to single out Moscow for criticism.
The fractures within the Republican Party will test longstanding GOP orthodoxy that saw Russia as a threat and responded to Putin’s annexation of Crimea with tough sanctions.
“I think reality is going to intercede at one point or another,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” on the eve of the Electoral College vote expected to formalize Trump’s victory. Trump, McCain suggested, “will very quickly understand what the Russians are all about.”
The Twitter-loving Trump did not immediately respond to McCain’s remarks. But the president-elect’s incoming chief of staff refused Sunday to say that the president-elect trusts the CIA’s conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in a bid to help the real estate mogul defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“They haven’t been totally up front and transparent in their opinion as to who, what, where and how this all happened,” Reince Priebus said of the intelligence community on “Fox News Sunday.”
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said Friday that his Intelligence panel “will follow the intelligence wherever it leads.” McCain at Armed Services and Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of Foreign Relations, also plan inquiries.
McCain joined Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed in pressing for a select committee in a letter released Sunday. An aide to McConnell said he would review the letter.
McCain and Trump have clashed throughout the campaign. Trump bashed McCain as a “loser” and “not a war hero” because he was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. McCain criticized Trump for making disparaging remarks about NATO, immigrants, Muslims and a “Gold Star” family that lost a son in Iraq — and for refusing to say he’d accept the presidential election results unless he won. McCain dropped his tepid support for his party’s nominee in October over the release of a recording in which Trump boasts about assaulting women.
President Barack Obama has ordered a full review of any Russian involvement before he leaves office next month.
While Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state has drawn concern among some Republicans, he is expected to win confirmation despite ties to Russia.
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