Trump, Republican Lawmakers Scramble to Play Down Russian Connection

 

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Trump, Republican Lawmakers Scramble to Play Down Russian Connection

CIA Says Election Hacking Was for Trump's Benefit

Donald Trump calls "ridiculous" a CIA assessment that Russia hacked emails to help him get elected. (Photos: Getty)

Donald Trump calls “ridiculous” a CIA assessment that Russia hacked emails to help him get elected. (Photos: Getty)

Donald Trump and a handful of Republican lawmakers are trying to head off or sharply curb a congressional investigation into a finding by the nation’s top intelligence agency that Russia actively worked to influence the U.S. election on Trump’s behalf.

Congressional Democrats have called for the investigation into Russia’s interference. But some Republican leaders, who launched multiple investigations of Hillary Clinton, now are suddenly reluctant to move forward.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told The Washington Post that Russia has been involved in cyber attacks for years and called the new allegations “serious, but hardly news.”

Some Republications are trying to limit the scope of the investigation to divert focus from the election to a more general assessment of ways to prevent cyber interference in the future.

But not all Republicans are on board with blocking or limiting the investigation.

But Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, both intend to pursue a full investigation. They’ve already challenged Trump on torture and immigration.

The big question is whether the Trump campaign was aware of Russia’s efforts and actively collaborated with Vladimir Putin’s government, as senior Russian officials have suggested.

“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in a Russian TV interview. “… I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”

The contacts “were on a sufficient, responsible level,” Ryabkov said in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency.

The startling CIA revelation also revealed a rift between the CIA and the FBI, which was politically compromised during the election.

FBI Director James Comey, in violation of established protocols and tradition, revealed 11 days before the election that the agency had reopened its investigation into Clinton’s private email server.

The FBI failed to find any new evidence and quickly closed the probe for the second time. But the damage to Clinton’s campaign was palpable.

Comey’s partisanship caused the agency to spin out of control with other leaks in an effort to damage Clinton’s campaign.

Now, the FBI appears to be playing down the CIA’s finding, according to The Post.

Part of the difference in view is being attributed to the FBI’s law enforcement role, which focuses on criminal evidence. The CIA assessments are based on a broader range of information.

For his part, Trump has lashed out at the intelligence agency, calling reports about its findings “ridiculous.”

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said in a statement through his transition team. He was referring to an erroneous assessment made 14 years ago during the Bush administration.

In an interview with Time magazine, Trump flatly denied Russian involvement. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said.

Trump’s statements have alarmed intelligence officials.

Paul Pillar, former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center told The Post:

“Given his proclivity for revenge combined with his notorious thin skin, this threatens to result in a lasting relationship of distrust and ill will between the president and the intelligence community. Everything Trump has indicated with regard to his character and tendencies for vindictiveness might be worse” [than former president Richard Nixon.]

President Obama, who also has been brief by the CIA, has asked the agency to prepare a comprehensive report on Russian intervention in the election before the end of his term in January.

Whether Congress and the FBI follows up with the same investigative zeal it display against Clinton remains to be seen.

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