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McCain renews call for panel to look into Russian hacks

Senator John McCain.
Senator John McCain.Associated Press

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Sunday morning renewed his call for the creation of a select committee to investigate possible Russian cyberattacks to influence the U.S. election.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that multiple congressional committees investigating the matter simultaneously, rather than a single, specially formed select committee of House and Senate members, would be inefficient.

“The responsibilities for cyber is spread over about four different committees in the Senate, and each doing their own thing, frankly, is not going to be the most efficient way of arriving at a conclusion,” McCain said. “This is serious business.”

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That position puts McCain at odds with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and majority leader, who has said that the Senate Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review” of the interference without the creation of a select committee.

McCain’s reaction to the reports of the Russian activity are also starkly at odds with President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly rejected the conclusions of U.S. intelligence reports, saying they are politically motivated.

Robert M. Gates, who served as secretary of defense under President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, said on Sunday that Russian cyberattacks were aimed at discrediting the U.S. electoral process and “certainly at weakening” Hillary Clinton.

“Whether it or not it was intended to help one another candidate, I don’t know,” said Gates, who also served as CIA director under Bush. “But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections, and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Clinton.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he stopped short of saying the meddling was intended to help Trump, and said the best course of action to respond to the cyberattacks was unclear.

Asked why Trump appeared not to be taking the allegations against Russia seriously, Gates speculated that the president-elect “felt the way this information came out through newspaper stories and so on was somehow intended to delegitimize his victory in the election and that he’s reacting to that rather than ‘the facts on the ground,’ as it were.”

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Trump has chosen to receive intelligence briefs only occasionally.

Few people were as directly affected by the hacking as John D. Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s campaign. But on Sunday he suggested that there was hardly a zealous effort by the FBI to investigate, adding that the only time he had been contacted by federal agents was two days after his hacked personal emails began appearing on WikiLeaks.

Podesta said he had suspected that some of the documents related to the Democratic National Committee published by WikiLeaks last summer could have come from his account. But he only became certain that his account had been fully compromised when WikiLeaks began publishing its contents on Oct. 7.

“Two days later, the FBI contacted me, and the first thing the agent said to me was, ‘I don’t know if you’re aware, but your email account might have been hacked,’” Podesta said.

“I said, ‘Yes, I was aware of that,’” he added.