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Senators Call For Select Committee To Investigate Russian Hacking


There are calls from both Democratic and Republican senators to investigate Russian meddling in this year's election. U.S. intelligence agencies say the aim of hacking and leaking documents was to help Donald Trump win.

There are differences over what kind of investigation by what kind of committee. Joining us now to talk about those differences is one of the Democratic senators who's been at the forefront of the call for an investigation by a select committee, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Welcome to the program.

JACK REED: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: The Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that existing committees - he mentioned the Intelligence Committee - can handle this job. You're on that committee as well as being the ranking Democrat on Armed Services. Why can't a standing committee do the job just as well?

REED: Well, the major issue is that so many of these aspects of cybersecurity cut across committee lines. And we have to have a comprehensive approach to this problem that will lead to comprehensive legislation. The Intelligence Committee deals with issues - principally foreign intelligence. The Armed Service Committee deals with intelligence issues related to military.

But there's the Homeland Security Department. There's - the banking regulators have issues of banking security and cyber-intrusion. So if we're going to do a job that is both comprehensive and will lead to effective legislation, a select committee, not business as usual, will be the best way to go.

SIEGEL: But this distinction between a select committee investigation that you support and an investigation by the Intelligence Committee or the Armed Services Committee - obviously this is a meaningful difference to you. It sounds to lots of people out there in the country to be somewhere in the weeds. What is something that a select committee could do that, say, the Intelligence Committee could not do?

REED: Well, first, the select committee will operate as much as possible in public, which is not the usual routine of an intelligence committee. And public hearings are important. You know, we have to protect sources and methods of intelligence information. But the public has to know.

First of all, they have to know that we're doing something about this. This is an unprecedented intrusion into our electoral process which, if unchecked, will continue. In fact, it will probably get worse. And the fundamental foundation of this country is faith in elections that are the result of voters and result of debate and discussion, not insinuation and fake news and leaked reports.

We have to restore that confidence. And a public select committee able to transcend jurisdictional boundaries, able to call witnesses from the law enforcement community, the judiciary, the financial services - that I think would be very, very powerful and very effective.

SIEGEL: You've just expressed your sense of how big a problem this is. Is there bipartisan consensus in the Senate that it indeed is that serious and that grave an issue, or should we infer from Senator McConnell's remarks that he may not agree with you?

REED: This is not a partisan issue. In fact, we very clearly want to make it a nonpartisan issue. This is an issue about the security of the United States and the American people. Senator McCain is prepared on the Armed Services Committee to structure a committee - a subcommittee that will look at cyber issues. But again, we'll run into limitations if we what we don't have - appropriate jurisdiction over some very important elements of our cyber-security system.

SIEGEL: How important to the cause of an investigation is President-elect Trump saying that it's important, which he is not?

REED: I think it is absolutely critical. And I think one reason it's critical is because the specter of Russian involvement in the election - if it's not clearly analyzed - and there is a sense that we know exactly the dimensions - we know what was done; we know why it was done - will be something that will cloud any relationship with the Russians going forward. There will always be the question coming up. Is the administration doing this because it's the right thing to do or they're doing it because there's something we don't know?

SIEGEL: Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, thanks for talking with us.

REED: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.