Sen. Mitch McConnell on Monday expressed support for bipartisan reviews of Russia's role in the presidential election, criticizing Moscow's foreign policy and what he called the Obama administration's deference to Russia's expanding influence.
The Senate majority leader from Kentucky also took swipes at GOP colleagues who may be reluctant to probe Russia's actions amid reports that the CIA concluded that Russia used a covert intelligence operation to help Donald Trump win the presidency. McConnell said he cannot confirm anything about Moscow's role in the presidential race beyond the intelligence community's public October conclusion that Russia directed the hacks of email accounts for U.S. political organizations.
He took a defiant tone with Moscow, saying "the Russians are not our friends" and decrying anyone who would ignore the country's suspected influence on the election.
"The Obama administration for eight years attempted to reset relations with Russia and sat back while Russia expanded its sphere of influence and intervened in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, Syria and attempted to bully the Baltic countries. It defies belief that somehow Republicans in the Senate are reluctant to either review Russian tactics or ignore them," McConnell said in a statement on Capitol Hill, without calling out any specific senators.
President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence agencies to deliver him evidence of Russian influence on the election. Some of that information may be made public "in a responsible manner," McConnell said.
A bipartisan group of senators including incoming Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican John McCain of Arizona have also called for a probe of Russian tactics. McConnell said he agreed with them that "this simply cannot be a partisan issue."
He added that the Senate's intelligence committee will review Russia's actions, following the "regular order." He stopped short of endorsing a special panel investigation.
President-elect Donald Trump has tried to cast reports about the CIA's conclusion as a partisan attempt to delegitimize his election. Still, several GOP senators have expressed concerns about Russian influence and intelligence agencies made public conclusions about Russian hacking even before the election.
In a statement Friday, Trump tried to discredit the CIA, based on its assessments before the Iraq War. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," he said.
McConnell did not comment on Trump's disbelief, but said he has "the highest confidence in the intelligence community."
Schumer cheered McConnell's statement, saying he "welcomes" his support for an investigation.