McConnell says ‘Russians are not our friends’

Steven T. Dennis
Bloomberg News

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had the “highest confidence” in the intelligence community, in sharp contrast to President-elect Donald Trump’s attack on the CIA after reports it found that the Russian government tried to help him win the presidency.

McConnell singled out the Central Intelligence Agency for praise Monday and said the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services panels will investigate findings by intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into emails and computers used in the presidential campaign, but he warned against using the probe for partisan purposes.

“Any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing and I strongly condemn any such efforts,” McConnell told reporters. He added later, “The Russians are not our friends.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday that the CIA has told senators that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government was actively seeking to help Trump win the election — a step beyond an earlier finding that the goal was to undermine the credibility of the U.S. political process.

Trump’s team attacked the CIA for its findings and scoffed at its credibility, blaming the agency for faulty intelligence analysis that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Trump piled on with a tweet on Monday.

“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 on Twitter.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller didn’t comment directly on McConnell’s remarks when asked by reporters on a conference call Monday, but blasted the reports about the CIA’s findings.

“What this is is an attempt to try to de-legitimize President-elect Trump’s win.” he said. “That really seems to be what’s going on here.”

Joint statement

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain and the incoming Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said on Sunday in an unusual joint statement that the Senate would investigate Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

McCain and Schumer, joined by Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.”

A small group of Electoral College members, including Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on Monday requested a briefing from the intelligence community on the possible scope of Russian interference in the U.S. election. On Dec. 19, the electors meet across the country to formally select the president and vice president.

The allegations concerning Russia have taken on new significance now that Trump is considering Exxon Mobil Corp. chief Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Tillerson is known for having ties to Putin, and the oil chief was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship, a high civilian honor given to distinguished foreign nationals. As recently as 2015 he visited with officials in Putin’s inner circle.

If Trump does nominate Tillerson, the Russian allegations could pose problems for his Senate confirmation, even for some Republicans.

“I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an Order of Friendship award from Putin — then we’ll have some questions,” Graham said in a statement over the weekend. “I don’t want to prejudge the guy but that’s a bit unnerving.”

On Monday, Schumer made clear Democrats also would question Tillerson’s Russian ties."Every one of these nominees, and particularly a guy like Tillerson, needs a thorough, thorough hearing," he said on CBS. "He’ll be questioned thoroughly should he be the nominee, and all of these allegations and talks about his closeness with Putin will come forward."

McConnell declined to comment on the potential nomination of Tillerson, saying he wouldn’t discuss a "phantom nominee."