Tuesday, December 20, 2016

House Dems: Russia hacking probe needs political 'safeguards'

Lawmakers say Trump’s dismissal of Russian hacking and his business investments could ‘threaten the impartiality’ of an investigation. 

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding intelligence officials put “safeguards” in place to ensure any investigation into Russian hacking is free of political influence ahead of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The lawmakers say Trump’s repeated dismissal of the Russian hacking along with his possible business investments in the county could “threaten the impartiality” of an investigation while he’s president.

The letter, sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, also calls on federal investigators to make public additional details about Russian attempts to undermine the election, including whether there is a criminal investigation and if so, when it started.

“We strongly and urgently request that safeguards be put in place — prior to the completion of the presidential transition — to ensure that any criminal investigation into these matters is conducted in an independent manner and free of improper partisan influence,” House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) wrote Wednesday.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), top Democrat on the committee’s crime panel, also signed onto the letter, obtained by POLITICO.

“To the extent that this investigation extends to any U.S. persons — including any associate of President Elect Donald Trump — we ask that you confirm this as well,” they added.

Conyers and Jackson Lee also cite Trump’s potential conflicts of interest surrounding his business holdings, including possible financial ties to Russia, as the need for an independent investigation.
The Judiciary Democrats say any probe into Russian cyber warfare should be treated with just as much importance as the controversial investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“These and other incidents concerning investigatory actions — or lack thereof — in the run up to the recent election have deeply shaken the reputation for fairness previously enjoyed by federal law enforcement and reinforce the need to appropriately handle any pending criminal investigation,” they write, citing Comey’s decision to publicly re-open the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s email practices days before the election.

Conyers and Jackson Lee also echo calls for an “independent and bipartisan commission” to fully investigate Russia’s actions in the run-up toNov. 8. The letter comes after growing demands from key senators for GOP leaders to establish a select congressional committee to dig into the issue.
President Barack Obama and other top intelligence officials have said Russia was behind the election hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic documents, including Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails and personal information for lawmakers and staffers, and resulted in the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz just hours before the Democratic convention.

But the president-elect and some Republicans have dismissed allegations of Russia’s role in the document dumps and the country's attempts to sway voters in Trump’s favor ahead of Election Day.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” Trump tweeted last week. He’s also called the claims “ridiculous” and “just another excuse.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced onOct. 7, more than a month before the election, that U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had conducted the hacking operations in an attempt to meddle in the election.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has publicly sparred with top intelligence officials, saying they have refused to brief him and other members of the panel on the issue in recent weeks. Nunes last week announced plans for committee members to visit the intelligence agencies in January to learn more about the Russian investigation.

So far, top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have rejected requests for a separate probe, saying the committees with jurisdiction over cybersecurity can handle the investigation.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are taking the lead on investigating the issue but several other committees, including House Judiciary, have some jurisdiction.

Key lawmakers, including incoming Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), have argued that a select panel is needed to head off problems from too many committees being involved.

McConnell again ruled out the idea of a special committee during an interview with a Kentucky PBS outlet Tuesday.

"It's a serious issue, but it doesn't require a select committee," McConnell said. "We already have a committee set up to do this."

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