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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By David Morgan and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican and Democratic senators called on Sunday for a special bipartisan panel to investigate cyber attacks 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 Senate Democratic leader in the new U.S. Congress in January, and Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said separately on Sunday 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.

By having one dedicated committee on the subject, they said, the investigation could be targeted, while avoiding the jurisdictional overlap that would occur if multiple panels started conducting their own reviews.

“Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American,” they wrote.

“Cybersecurity is the ultimate cross-jurisdictional challenge, and we must take a comprehensive approach to meet this challenge effectively.”

A spokesman for McConnell’s office said on Sunday he would review the letter from the four lawmakers.

Last week, McConnell said he would support efforts to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia tried to influence the Nov. 8 election by hacking individuals and institutions, including Democratic Party bodies.

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

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

The U.S. Electoral College is expected to officially vote on Monday for Trump as the country’s next president. At meetings scheduled in every state and the District of Columbia, the institution’s 538 electors, generally chosen by state parties, will cast official ballots for president and vice president.

Trump won a majority of Electoral College votes, while the popular vote went to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

‘OPEN QUESTION’

U.S. President Barack Obama suggested on Friday 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 had 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, Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, said on Sunday it was an “open question” whether Trump’s advisers colluded with Russia to hack into Democratic Party emails to try to sway the 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. 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.

“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.

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.

(Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: FILE – In this Jan. 28, 2013, file photo Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.