McConnell says Russian hacking investigations cannot be partisan

Thomson Reuters

WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell added his voice on Monday to calls for bipartisan cooperation on investigations into Russian hacking aimed at interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

"Any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing and I strongly condemn any such efforts," McConnell said at a news conference. "This simply cannot be a partisan issue."

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Republican and Democratic senators have said they would cooperate in investigations into Moscow's role in the Nov. 8 vote. The calls for congressional action followed U.S. intelligence reports on Friday that Russia intervened in the presidential election on Republican President-elect Donald Trump's behalf through targeted hacking.

The Washington Post, citing sources briefed on the matter, said that when congressional leaders were briefed on the hacking report in September, McConnell had expressed doubts about the veracity of the intelligence.

But in comments on Monday that repudiated Trump's reluctance to blame Russia, McConnell said he had the highest confidence in the intelligence assessments of U.S. agencies, especially the CIA.

The lawmakers' rare display of bipartisanship to investigate hacking now contrasted with Trump's dismissal of the reports as "ridiculous" on Sunday, when he blamed Democrats for the news reports and said he did not believe they came from the Central Intelligence Agency.

McConnell said the Senate Intelligence Committee was "more than capable" of conducting a complete review.

He blamed the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama for trying to reset relations with Russia for eight years while Moscow "expanded its influence, intervened in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Syria, and attempted to bully the Baltic countries."

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

Trump on Monday renewed his questions about U.S. intelligence reports that Russia intervened in the presidential election by targeting his rival in Twitter posts that suggested politics played a role in the news reports on the hacking.

"Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!" he wrote.

A second tweet said, "Unless you catch 'hackers' in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?"

The U.S. government did accuse Russia of trying to interfere with the election process a full month before the Nov. 8 vote with a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations. A statement from the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security said the hacks could have been authorized "only by Russia's senior-most officials."

Trump had addressed the suspected Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee during a debate with rival Hillary Clinton by saying the intrusion also could have been carried out by China or "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."

Trump advisers have dismissed the news reports on the intelligence findings that point to Russian hacking aimed at helping Trump.

"What this is is an attempt to try to delegitimize president-elect Trump's win," spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on Monday. "That really seems to be what's going on here." (Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)