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McCain calls for special panel to investigate Russian hacking

On CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union,’’ the Arizona Republican told host Jake Tapper that there was ‘‘no doubt’’ Russia interfered with the election.
On CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union,’’ the Arizona Republican told host Jake Tapper that there was ‘‘no doubt’’ Russia interfered with the election.Molly Riley/Associated Press/File 2016

WASHINGTON — Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, decried Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential race and called Sunday for a select Senate committee to investigate the country’s cyberactivities during the election.

On CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union,’’ the Arizona Republican told host Jake Tapper that there was ‘‘no doubt’’ Russia interfered with the election.

‘‘We need to get to the bottom of this,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s no doubt they were interfering. There’s no doubt. The question is now how much and what damage? And what should the United States of America do?’’

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the incoming Democratic leader, also called Sunday for a special Senate investigation. Schumer and McCain were among four senior senators who issued a bipartisan statement a week ago warning that ‘‘our democratic institutions have been targeted.’’

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Donald Trump’s top aides Sunday said the president-elect isn’t ready to accept the finding by intelligence officials that Moscow hacked Democratic e-mails in a bid to elevate Trump. Even if it’s true, they said, Trump still won the White House fair and square.

‘‘This whole thing is a spin job,’’ said Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus. ‘‘And I think what the Democrats ought to do is look in the mirror and face the reality that they lost the election.’’

Trump himself weighed in Sunday evening, tweeting, ‘‘If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!’’

Earlier this month, the CIA concluded in a secret assessment that Russia meddled in the election to help Trump win the presidency. FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with the CIA’s assessment.

In the CNN interview, Tapper asked whether McCain was concerned that Trump has not denounced Russia’s alleged interference, while maintaining a ‘‘friendly posture’’ toward President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

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McCain, who has at times been a vocal critic of Trump’s, on Sunday seemed to avoid directly finding fault with the president-elect’s approach to Russia.

‘‘No, I have not heard [Trump] criticize Putin,’’ McCain told Tapper. ‘‘I think reality is going to intercede at one point or another just because of the Russian activities.’’

Last week, Hillary Clinton, in audio obtained by The New York Times, partly blamed her loss on ‘‘the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election.’’

‘‘And this is something every American should be worried about,’’ Clinton told campaign donors Thursday night. ‘‘You know, we have to recognize that, as the latest reports made clear, Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyberattacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.’’

When Tapper played that portion of audio for McCain on his show, The senator said he had seen no evidence that the election outcome would have changed — but that it didn’t matter.

‘‘I have seen no evidence that the voting machines were tampered with,’’ McCain said. ‘‘I have seen no evidence that the election would have been different, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Russians and others — the Chinese, to a lesser degree — have been able to interfere with our electoral process.’’

‘‘If they are able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy,’’ McCain said.

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A select, bipartisan committee would focus not only on Russia’s alleged activities during the 2016 campaign but also cyberattacks in general, the senator said. He said the issue of cybersecurity is ‘‘spread out over about four different committees in the Senate.’’

McCain and three other senators earlier this month called for a thorough investigation of alleged Russian influence in the election. The others were Schumer; Senator Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina; and Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.

‘‘This cannot become a partisan issue,’’ the statement read in part. ‘‘The stakes are too high for our country.’’

The issue is of election tampering is beginning to register with the public. A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds more than half of Americans say they are significantly bothered by the news that hackers working in connection with a foreign government were involved in trying to influence November’s vote.

Forty-three percent of respondents say they are bothered a ‘‘great deal’’ about the interference, while an additional 12 percent were bothered ‘‘quite a bit.’’

A combined 86 percent of Democrats are bothered a great deal or quite a bit by the interference, versus just 29 percent of Republican respondents.