Republican and Democratic senators call for investigation into Russian election hacks

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WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) – U.S. Republican and Democratic senators called on Sunday for a special bipartisan panel to investigate cyber attacks against the United States by foreign countries with a focus on Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Charles Schumer, who will be Senate Democratic leader in the new U.S. Congress in January, and Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said separately on Sunday a select committee was needed to ensure effective congressional focus on the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the campaign.

“The fact that they’re hacking our political system and trying to influence the outcome, as it seems to be, that is serious, serious stuff,” Schumer of New York told a news conference in New York. He said the panel should also examine hacking by other countries including China and Iran.

Two other senators, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, joined Schumer and McCain of Arizona in sending a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell requesting the panel.

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By having one dedicated committee on the subject, they said, the investigation could be targeted, while avoiding the jurisdictional overlap that would occur if multiple panels started conducting their own reviews.

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” they wrote.

“Cybersecurity is the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge, and we must take a comprehensive approach to meet this challenge effectively.”

A spokesman for McConnell’s office said on Sunday he would review the letter from the four lawmakers.

Last week, McConnell said he would support efforts to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried to influence the Nov. 8 election by hacking individuals and institutions, including Democratic Party bodies.

The matter has angered Republican President-elect Donald Trump, who says he won the vote fairly.

Russian officials have denied accusations of interfering in the U.S. election.

The U.S. Electoral College is expected to officially vote on Monday for Trump as the country’s next president. At meetings scheduled in every state and the District of Columbia, the institution’s 538 electors, generally chosen by state parties, will cast official ballots for president and vice president.

Trump won a majority of Electoral College votes, while the popular vote went to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

FLASHBACK: See Clinton voters on election night

A supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton watches and waits at her election night rally in New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

A Clinton supporter stands alone in the bleachers after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally was canceled at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton watches and waits at her election night rally in New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Musician Lagy Gaga sits in her car after staging a protest against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump outside Trump Tower in New York City after midnight on election day November 9, 2016. Donald Trump stunned America and the world, riding a wave of populist resentment to defeat Hillary Clinton in the race to become the 45th president of the United States. The Republican mogul defeated his Democratic rival, plunging global markets into turmoil and casting the long-standing global political order, which hinges on Washington’s leadership, into doubt.

(DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Guests react to election results as they appear on a large television monitor during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A supporter uses his smartphone as others leave Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally in New York, U.S., November 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

A person talks on the phone at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 9, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States.

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Emily Benn stays in a seat at the end of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

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At attendee reacts while kneeling on the floor during an election night party for 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Javits Center in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. 

(Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An attendee reacts while sitting on the floor during an election night party for 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton at the Javits Center in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

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Matt Sanborn of Laconia, N.H., a Boston College student who volunteered for Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton and New Hampshire Democratic Senate candidate, Gov. Maggie Hassan, rests his hands on the top of his head while watching election returns during an election night rally in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

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A woman weeps as election results are reported during Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally in the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Wellesley College students and supporters of Hillary Clinton Kumari Devarajan, of Washington, left, and Diana Castillo, of Elgin, Ill,, right, wipe away tears as they watch televised election returns during a watch party on the campus of Wellesley College, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Wellesley, Mass. Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969.

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‘OPEN QUESTION’

U.S. President Barack Obama suggested on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the Democratic Party email hacks.

McCain told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the U.S. response to the Russian attacks had been “totally paralyzed” and said cyber warfare “is perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us.”

The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

John Podesta, Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, said on Sunday it was an “open question” whether Trump’s advisers colluded with Russia to hack into Democratic Party emails to try to sway the election outcome.

Leaked emails had revealed details of paid speeches that Clinton gave to Wall Street, party infighting and comments from Clinton top aides who said they were shocked about the extent of her use of a private server to send emails while U.S. secretary of state.

The leaks led to embarrassing media coverage and prompted some party officials to resign.

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In this June 7, 1995 file photograph, Donald Trump is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after taking his flagship Trump Plaza Casino public in New York City. Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., based in Atlantic City, New Jersey, filed for Chapter 11 protection on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Jersey. Trump and his daughter Ivanka resigned from the company’s board Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, after growing frustrated with bondholders. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens,File)

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Podesta said there was evidence that Trump associates had contact with a Russian intelligence official and the website WikiLeaks before U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russia of being behind computer attacks of Democratic emails, including Podesta’s. He did not specify what the evidence was.

“It’s very much unknown whether there was collusion. I think Russian diplomats have said post-election that they were talking to the Trump campaign,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

“Not what Mr. Trump knew, but what did ‘Trump Inc’ know and when did they know it? Were they in touch with the Russians? I think those are still open questions,” he added.

Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, rejected the notion that Trump or his associates were aware of and in touch with the Russians during the hack attack.

“Even this question is insane,” Priebus told “Fox News Sunday.” “Of course we don’t interface with the Russians. (Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)

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