WASHINGTON — Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin dismisses what he calls “endless and groundless” accusations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election as part of a political struggle in Washington, a battle in Congress is happening: to create a bipartisan investigation into the matter.
After continued claims of bipartisanship failure in an investigating House committee, the Senate intelligence committee is taking up the reins today, Thursday, March 30, 2017, of what Oklahoma Republican senator James Lankford calls a long process of meetings and briefings in order to come to an independent report on the matter.
Lankford said he not only believes Congress, especially the senate side, can get the task accomplished but that the committee members are the best candidates for the job, as they already have clearances that will get the ball rolling faster.
An investigation independent of Congress would take months to get to the clearance level of the current Senate committee members, he said. Lankford also said he doubts a true bipartisan committee, separate from Congress, could ever be formed.
“You can’t find 10 independent people in Washington, D.C.,” Lankford said.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia spoke ahead of a committee session Thursday that will address how the Kremlin allegedly uses technology to spread disinformation in the U.S. and Europe.
Warner said the committee is investigating to find out whether voters in key states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, might have been served up Russian-generated fake news and propaganda along with information from their traditional news outlets.
"We are in a whole new realm around cyber that provides opportunity for huge, huge threats to our basic democracy," Warner said. "You are seeing it right now."
Pledging cooperation, the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Warner said they would steer clear of politics in their panel's probe of Russian meddling. They made a point of putting themselves at arm's length from the House investigation that has been marked by partisanship and disputes.
Lankford agreed with that assessment but cautioned that a true report will take time to address what he called a “very serious set of accusations."
“It’s a pretty broad sweeping piece, not only what the Russians did — that clearly they were engaged in trying to influence our election and destabilize our election, as they have done to many other nations all around, especially Europe,” Lankford told CNN’s “New Day” Thursday.
“We’re also trying to investigate was there any connections with the Trump campaign, was there any other conversations, what happened to all the leaks? The leaks are also serious, as well.
“When you walk through a process for any classified document or classified conversation, to suddenly be in the public, that’s a serious issue, as well.
“And, so, all these things get collected together to be able to be a part of our investigation,” Lankford said. “But the center of this is the Russian engagement in our election. We’ve got to resolve that. The Russians will not stop doing it. We’ve got to expose what they do, how they do it and put a stop to it.”