One of 2016’s most incendiary political developments — accusations that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to aid Donald Trump — has drawn mostly silence from Washington state’s Republican members of Congress.
In the waning days of President Obama’s administration, U.S. intelligence agencies have issued increasingly forceful reports tying the Russian government to the hacking of Democratic Party organizations last year.
That’s prompted a barrage of outraged statements and calls for investigations from congressional Democrats. They’ve been joined by a few prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who have demanded a robust congressional probe via appointment of a special, bipartisan select committee.
But Washington’s four Republican members of the U.S. House, like most of their GOP colleagues, so far have not joined such calls.
In recent weeks, they’ve left Russia unmentioned while sending news releases and taking to social media to comment on subjects ranging from high-school football to Hanukkah, Snake River dams and a controversial United Nations resolution condemning the increase in Israeli settlements.
On Thursday, in response to requests from The Seattle Times, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, did issue a statement expressing concern over the spate of Russian hacking allegations.
“Although our intelligence agencies have not yet published the full report on their investigation, we must take their findings to date extremely seriously,” Reichert said in the emailed statement. “Any country or group that attempts to interfere with our democratic process needs to be met with consequences. Only the American people can decide who leads our country.”
He did not specify what actions Congress should take.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, did not respond to requests for an interview or comment. Nor did the offices of U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
Trump, who will be sworn in as president Jan. 20, has dismissed the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies on hacking by Russia and disputed the need for further investigation. “I think we ought to get on with our lives,” standing beside boxing promoter Don King, he told reporters during a recent appearance at Mar-a-Lago, his seaside Florida resort.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, slammed the “nonchalance” of Trump and most congressional Republicans.
“The silence of the Republicans on this is really rather damning,” Smith said in an interview. “If it wasn’t for the fact that part of the allegation was this was done to help elect Trump, you can bet that the Republicans would be all over malfeasance by Russia.”
Smith said even if they’re not on the committees dealing with intelligence or foreign affairs, rank-and-file Republicans could send a message about the seriousness of the issue by taking a public stand.
Before 2016, McMorris Rodgers, for one, had portrayed Russia as a top geopolitical foe of the U.S.
In a statement last May on the passage of the 2016 defense-funding bill, she said it would enable American troops to be ready for “21st-century threats like ISIL, cybersecurity and an encroaching Russia.”
In a 2014 floor speech on an anti-terrorism funding amendment, McMorris Rodgers warned of Russia’s “aggressive action” toward Baltic nations, saying when America “sits idle on the sidelines, there’s a leadership void which is filled by bad actors.”
But so far, McMorris Rodgers and other GOP leaders have not supported formation of a select committee to investigate Russia’s role in the U.S. election.
Her office offered no comment last week on her views of an appropriate congressional response.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have denounced foreign interference in the U.S. election as unacceptable and said they support further probes.
But they’ve resisted creation of a new investigative panel, suggesting the work can be handled by the existing House and Senate intelligence committees — which critics noted would mean no guarantee of a final public report.
House Republicans did form a special select committee to probe the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans died. That panel spent two years investigating, trying to prove the culpability of then-Secretary of State and future Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.