Why Congress needs to launch a bipartisan inquiry into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election

David Ignatius writes: The allegations about Russian hacking are framed in the unclassified report released last Friday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., on behalf of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. That report made strong charges, but it didn’t provide detailed supporting evidence, which is contained in other, classified reports. The allegations are public, in other words, but not the proof.

That’s a bad mix. Indeed, it’s potentially toxic when Trump has criticized the investigation as a “political witch hunt,” and Reince Priebus, his choice for White House chief of staff, has said the Clapper report is “clearly politically motivated to discredit” Trump’s victory.

Somehow, this allegation of foreign meddling has to be taken out of politics. Otherwise, it’s too incendiary. It could be abused by Trump’s critics, or by Trump himself. An independent inquiry is the best way to safeguard the rule of law, and the insistence that nobody is above it.

Recall what the intelligence chiefs alleged in the Clapper report: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. . . . We also assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

How did Putin organize and implement this manipulative campaign? What funds were used, and from what source? Were any Americans involved in the effort? Did any Americans meet improperly with Russian operatives, in the United States or abroad? Does Russia believe it has any leverage over Trump, financial or otherwise? Are remnants of the Russian network still in place?

On any such details of the alleged “influence campaign,” the report is silent. That’s understandable, in terms of protecting sources and methods, but frustrating for those who want hard facts to combat the “post-truth” environment in which people are skeptical of any assertion that lacks proof.

At the top of each page of Clapper’s report is a reminder: “Conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.”

I’d argue that there is a genuine public “need to know” more of the supporting information, even if that carries risks. [Continue reading…]

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