Minority Whip Dick Durbin has ‘no confidence’ in Russia hacking investigations by existing committees.
The number two Democrat in the Senate is calling for “a commission like the 9/11 Commission” to investigate claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he does not trust existing Senate committees to do a sufficiently thorough inquiry.
“If we’re going to have a comprehensive, credible investigation, they need more resources, more time, and more authority,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told ThinkProgress on Friday.
Following weeks of murmurs from the intelligence community, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last month that he supported official congressional scrutiny of allegations that the Kremlin tipped the 2016 election in President-elect Donald Trump’s favor. But he rejected pleas to impanel a new investigatory body, saying the Senate Intelligence Committee “is more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter.”
“I have no confidence the existing committees will have the authority, the resources, or the will to carry this investigation to its conclusion.”
Durbin, who is the ranking member on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, begged to differ.
“I have no confidence the existing committees will have the authority, the resources, or the will to carry this investigation to its conclusion,” he said.
His lack of confidence in Republican will is due in part to the limited scope of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation. Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said on Thursday that his committee’s inquiry would not direct its investigation toward the Trump campaign itself, despite accusations that members of the president-elect’s team had colluded with Moscow. Earlier this week, CNN broke the news that intelligence officials had obtained a dossier containing accusations of collaboration.
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Durbin told ThinkProgress he is “sorry Chairman Burr has excluded an important piece of evidence,” though he stressed the allegations contained within the dossier remain wholly unverified.
Burr explained the narrow purview of his committee’s investigation by saying he lacked the authority “to go to any campaign and request information that one would need to do an investigation.”
A commission — such as 9/11 Commission, the bipartisan body established in 2002 to review the circumstances around the September 11 attacks — might have broader subpoena powers, greater access to classified information, and additional resources such as a larger research staff, Durbin said.
“If that is the route that is chosen, we could put chairs in place that we could trust,” he said. “I’ve suggested two names that came to me instantly.” He suggested that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor jointly lead the proposed Russian interference commission.
The second best option, he added, would be a select committee, “because it gives special authority from a committee, and usually balanced membership.” Republicans currently hold a majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reflecting their majority in the Senate as a whole.
That would be important because of what Durbin called the “lack of interest going up to Mitch McConnell” among Republicans when it comes to aggressively chasing after evidence of foreign intrusion into the American electoral system.
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Durbin also said he is now unsure whether FBI Director James Comey would marshal a sufficient inquiry. He cited Comey’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server as the root of his doubts — specifically, his decision to publicly remonstrate Clinton even as he announced the FBI’s recommendation that she not be charged.
“I enthusiastically supported him as director of the FBI,” Durbin said of Comey. “I’ve had hearings with him; I’ve always been impressed with his knowledge and never questioned his integrity. But I’ll tell you, his performance during this last presidential campaign raised serious questions about his conduct as an investigator and a prosecutor.”
Earlier on Friday, the Guardian reported that Comey had frustrated House Democrats by refusing to say in a closed-door briefing whether the Bureau is looking into alleged links between Trump and the Russian government. If such an investigation exists, it is possible that Trump’s incoming attorney general could shut it down on day one of the job. Durbin told ThinkProgress he would send a letter to President-elect Trump’s nominee for the post, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), asking whether, if confirmed, “he will impede or stop an investigation in the FBI related to Russian interference.”
Not all Republicans share McConnell’s assessment that a commission or special committee is unnecessary. Last month, GOP Sens. John McCain (AZ) and Lindsey Graham (SC) co-signed a letter to McConnell requesting the formation of “a new Senate Select Committee on Cyber” that would “conduct a comprehensive investigation of Russian interference in our recent elections.” But without more support from the other side of the aisle, Democrats may be powerless to launch an inquiry with real teeth.
“They’re in control,” said Durbin, “and as such, they can shut down any investigation at this point and fail to initiate one.”
Top Senate Democrat says GOP leaders lack the will for a serious Russia inquiry was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.