Senators call for probe of cyberattacks by Russia

A woman walks past a mural on a restaurant wall depicting US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeting each other with a kiss in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on May 13, 2016.

U.S. Republican and Democratic senators on Sunday called for a special bipartisan panel to investigate cyberattacks 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 the Senate Democratic leader in the new U.S. Congress in January, and John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said separately on Sunday that 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, Schumer said. The letter read:

Dear Leader McConnell:

For years, foreign adversaries have directed cyberattacks at America's physical, economic, and military infrastructure, while stealing our intellectual property. Now our democratic institutions and processes have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American. Cybersecurity is the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge, and we must take a comprehensive approach to meet this challenge effectively. We therefore would ask for your support in establishing a temporary Select Committee on Cyber.

The Congress's oversight committees have worked diligently to address the complex challenge of cybersecurity, but recent events show that more must be done. Cyber cuts across and involves multiple committees of jurisdiction, including the Committees on Intelligence, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Commerce, Judiciary, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Despite the good work that these and other committees have done on their own, cyber is the rare kind of all-encompassing challenge for which the Congress's jurisdictional boundaries are an impediment to sufficient oversight and legislative action. Only a select committee that is time-limited, cross-jurisdictional, and purpose-driven can address the challenge of cyber.

Such a select committee must focus on two critical tasks. First, it must conduct a comprehensive investigation of Russian interference in our recent elections and inform the public as much as possible, while protecting classified information, about the facts of the case and what actions could reasonably have been taken across the federal government to deter or defend against this interference. Second, and more broadly, a select committee must tackle the issue of cyber in its entirety and develop comprehensive recommendations and, as necessary, new legislation to modernize our nation's laws, governmental organization, and related practices to meet this challenge. Upon completion of these tasks, this select committee could be disestablished.

We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognize that this is an extraordinary request. However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to address this unique challenge. We look forward to working with you on this matter as the Senate works through the organizing resolution for the 115th Congress.

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

The matter has angered President-elect Donald Trump, who says he won the Nov. 8 vote fairly.

Russian officials have denied accusations of interfering in the Nov. 8 U.S. election.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama suggested 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 has 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, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign chairman, also said on Sunday that it was an "open question" whether Trump's advisers colluded with Russia to hack into Democratic Party emails to try to sway 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.

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. But 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. (Disclosure: NBCUniversal is parent of NBC and CNBC.)

"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.

Asked if it was a free and fair election, Podesta replied: "I think it was distorted by the Russian intervention, let's put it that way."

In a separate interview, 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."

The controversy, which includes a formal U.S. Justice Department probe, has intensified interest in a crucial Monday vote by the Electoral College, which determines the outcome of U.S. presidential elections.

Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote.

Electoral College members will meet in every state to cast the ballots that will officially declare winners of the presidential and vice presidential contests.

The voting is usually a formality. Podesta has called for the electors to be briefed about the hacking before they vote.

CNBC contributed to this report.