A House Democrat is asking Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that Russia tried to influence the 2016 elections through cyberhacking. The appeal to Lynch seeks to ensure the administration keeps its commitment to the probe even after Obama leaves office.
In the letter sent to Lynch late Tuesday, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) stressed that an expected report from the intelligence community next month will only “be a starting point for additional investigation, not the conclusion of this matter.”
“While President Obama has called for a report to be issued by the intelligence community and Congressional hearings may be held, the Department of Justice still has an important role to play in determining what laws may have been broken and who in the United States or elsewhere may be legally culpable,” she wrote.
Democrats are worried that President-elect Donald Trump will be a roadblock once taking office and, in fact, throw water on ongoing efforts to determine why Russia allegedly sought to manipulate the election through hacks hitting the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, and other prominent figures and institutions.
Trump has long cast doubt on intelligence reports linking Russia to the hacks, remarking that it could as easily have been China or “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” Trump doubled down on that skepticism this month after the revelation that the CIA and FBI believed that Russia engaged in election-related hacks to help Trump get elected.
Although Republican leaders in Congress have committed to investigate the allegations, they, too, have expressed doubts about the intelligence community’s findings.
Like many Democrats, Velázquez is concerned that if the investigation stays primarily under the purview of the intelligence committee — an approach both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) have indicated that they prefer — there is the danger that information pertaining to the hacks may never be made public.
Velázquez appealed to the attorney general to exploit the law that allows the appointment of a special counsel in “extraordinary circumstances” to ensure that no matter what happens in Congress, an investigation could proceed and information could eventually be released.
“It is vital the American people understand the exact nature of how Russia sought to influence our electoral process through cyberattacks and that those who perpetrated or facilitated these attacks be held legally responsible,” Velázquez wrote.
Many Democratic lawmakers have stepped forward to ask President Obama to declassify information related to the Russian hacking allegations before he leaves office, for fear that it may be impossible to later compel Trump to release assessments that could potentially implicate the campaign that brought him to the White House. Earlier this month, a group of Senate Democrats, including several ranking members and intelligence committee members, sent Obama an official letter requesting such a release of information.
Velázquez does not sit on the House’s Judiciary or Intelligence committees. She explained that she was seeking a special counsel to ensure there would be a “full accounting of the facts” that would not hinder any other ongoing investigations.
“This is a highly sensitive matter and there needs to be no doubt that an independent review, free of political interference is being conducted,” Velázquez said in a statement. “That’s why the Special Counsel statute exists and appointing one now could give the public confidence this matter is being fairly investigated.”