McConnell Orders Russia-Meddling Hearings Amid Uproar Over Trump

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republican leaders blocked a resolution supporting U.S. intelligence agencies, even as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ordered a review of additional sanctions against Russia in a sign of unease over President Donald Trump’s statements on Russian election interference.

The resolution offered Thursday by Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware would have backed the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election and say that Russia must be held accountable.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas objected to the resolution, saying he preferred the approach of McConnell, who on Thursday ordered committee hearings on legislation to deter Russia from meddling in this year’s election.

Rejecting the intelligence findings "is an act of will on the part of the president, and that choice now leaves us contemplating a dark mystery," Flake said. "Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?”

The resolution, S.Res. 583, called for full implementation of sanctions against Russia enacted by Congress last year, and said lawmakers must obtain government notes and other information to find out what commitments Trump made to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their private meeting in Helsinki on Monday.

Lawmakers in both parties have called for actions -- such as tougher sanctions on Russia and limiting the president’s ability to impose tariffs based on national security -- following the Trump-Putin meeting and last week’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents on charges that involve the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts

McConnell said in a statement that the U.S. intelligence assessment on the 2016 election "makes clear that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at undermining public faith in our democratic process."

He ordered the chairmen of the Banking and Foreign Relations Committees to hold hearing on Russia sanctions and asked them to recommend "additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior."

Some administration officials have said they are concerned there may be no shaking public perception that Trump is too cozy with Putin. Trump’s aides view this as one of the worst moments of his presidency, one official said, noting that the president continues to resist acknowledging election interference because he believes that diminishes his victory.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray have publicly restated their belief in the determination of election interference.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said this week he’ll propose new sanctions on Russia that could only be waived if the administration certifies that Moscow has ceased interfering in U.S. elections.

A bill offered by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland would impose stiff sanctions on Russia’s energy and banking sectors if the Director of National Intelligence -- not Trump -- certifies that Russia interfered in any future election.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’ll introduce a resolution opposing any effort by the U.S. to make former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul available for questioning by Russian officials.

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