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Key Republicans prepared to overlook allegations against Russia

One former CIA chief called Russia's intervention in the presidential campaign "the political equivalent of 9/11." What will the congressional GOP do about it?
US Capitol Police stand guard in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)
US Capitol Police stand guard in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2013.
Michael Morell has quite a background in the CIA, having served as its acting director twice, and having been the official responsible for briefing George W. Bush on 9/11. It therefore matters that Morrell described Russia's alleged intervention in the American presidential campaign as "the political equivalent of 9/11.""It is an attack on our very democracy. It's an attack on who we are as a people," Morell said over the weekend. "A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11. It is huge and the fact that it hasn't gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me."Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added yesterday that he believes Russia's suspected actions represented "another form of warfare."The question then becomes what Congress intends to do about it. As far as the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is concerned, there is effectively nothing: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said yesterday he doesn't intend to launch an investigation into the latest revelations.

"The House Intelligence Committee is conducting vigorous oversight of the investigations into election-related cyber attacks. Seeing as cyber attacks, including Russian attacks, have been one of the committee's top priorities for many years, we've held extensive briefings and hearings on the topic. [...]"At this time I do not see any benefit in opening further investigations, which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and Intelligence Community inquiries."

Or put another way, the committee already held some hearings about cyber-attacks in general -- in September 2015 and March 2016 -- before Vladimir Putin's government tried to intervene in our political process, so Nunes doesn't see the need to do any additional work investigating Russia's apparent attack on our democracy.Did I mention the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is also a member of Donald Trump's transition team? Because he is.Politico added that Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) also "issued a statement suggesting his panel isn't launching any kind of new wide-ranging probe, but was just planning to continue the oversight work it is already doing."In response to "the political equivalent of 9/11," the Republican chairmen of the Intelligence Committees have decided to respond with an indifferent shrug of their shoulders. The cravenness is simply breathtaking.As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent explained yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went further than the committee chairmen, endorsing the idea of some kind of investigation, but the devil is in the details. The question is less about whether Congress looks into the allegations, and more about how.Democrats believe the scandal is serious enough to warrant a special panel, such as the one that investigated the Benghazi attack in 2012, in order to get answers. Short of that, Dems believe a joint probe launched by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is warranted.Republican leaders are saying the right things publicly about the significance of the alleged attack, but behind the scenes, GOP leaders have made it clear they oppose any special review of the controversy. Indeed, they're content to leave the matter in the hands of the Intelligence Committee chairs -- who also happen to be the same pro-Trump lawmakers who intend to do nothing.And even if Nunes and Burr can be persuaded to care, there's no guarantee they'd ever produce a report to the public on what, exactly, transpired during the campaign.Attention then turns to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), two Russia hawks who appear to take the controversy far more seriously, and who may yet hold hearings of their own. McCain is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Graham chairs a Judiciary Committee panel on crime and terrorism, and both could hold hearings in the new Congress.Watch this space.