Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced today that a Senate intelligence panel plans to investigate Russia’s suspected election interference. At the same time, McConnell rejected calls for an expanded congressional probe — e.g., a joint Senate-House panel or a special committee like the one that investigated Benghazi. Instead, he insisted that any probe would follow “regular order” through the current committee structure.
Donald Trump continues to pooh-pooh the idea of Russian interference. He tweeted:
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.
True. But if the hacking had been the opposite — in other words the RNC and Kellyanne Conway had been hacked, not the DNC and John Podesta — Trump in all likelihood would be playing the Russia card. In fact, Trump was talking about conspiracies and rigged elections before the election.
I don’t think this issue can be resolved by saying who would be doing what if things had gone differently. The presumption is that a candidate or party will say and do what’s in its interest. That doesn’t tell us whether what they are saying and doing is meritorious.
Trump also tweeted:
Unless you catch “hackers” in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?
The answer to Trump’s question is that the issue was brought up before the election. In October, the U.S. government officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections through a hacking campaign.
What about Trump’s assertion that it will be very hard to determine who has done the hacking? Is this true? I don’t know.
The harder question here, it seems to me, is determining the hacker’s motive. Did the hacker want to tip the election to Trump, discredit the expected winner (Hillary Clinton), to sow confusion and undermine faith in our system, or to accomplish something else?
Motive aside, it seems worthwhile, at least in theory, to investigate who did the hacking — a matter that apparently is disputed or at least not clear. Any such investigation should encompass other instances of alleged Russian hacking and the general question of Russian threats to our cyber-security.
Does this mean it’s a good idea for the Senate to investigate? Not necessarily.
For one thing, I have limited confidence in the ability of congressional committees effectively to investigate matters like this one. Second, we have to consider whether such an investigation might actually play into the hands of Russia.
Third, the matter can be explored without congressional involvement. Apparently, it will be — President Obama has ordered such an investigation. In addition, it seems likely that the CIA under Mike Pompeo, and perhaps other agencies as well, will take a big interest in threats to our cyber-security, including those posed by Russia.
I’m still thinking about the pros and cons of a congressional investigation. As Scott says, to be continued.