“We need to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “There’s no doubt they were interfering. There’s no doubt. The question is now, how much and what damage? And what should the United States of America do?”
Earlier this month, the CIA concluded in a secret assessment that Russia meddled in the election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with the CIA's assessment.
Tapper asked whether McCain was concerned that Trump has not denounced Russia's alleged interference — while maintaining a “friendly posture” toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
McCain, who has at times been a vocal critic of Trump, on Sunday seemed to avoid directly finding fault with the president-elect's approach to Russia.
“No, I have not heard [Trump] criticize Putin,” McCain told Tapper. “I think reality is going to intercede at one point or another just because of the Russian activities. I hope that with people like [retired Marine Gen. James Mattis and others] that he will very quickly understand what the Russians are all about.”
Last week, Hillary Clinton, in audio obtained by the New York Times, partly blamed her loss on “the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election.”
“And this is something every American should be worried about,” Clinton told campaign donors Thursday night. “You know, we have to recognize that, as the latest reports made clear, Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me.”
When Tapper played that portion of audio for McCain on his show, the senator said that he had seen no evidence that the election outcome would have changed — but that it didn't matter.
“I have seen no evidence that the voting machines were tampered with,” McCain said. “I have seen no evidence that the election would have been different, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Russians and others — the Chinese, to a lesser degree — have been able to interfere with our electoral process.”
McCain said, “If they are able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy.”
A select, bipartisan committee would focus not only on Russia's alleged activities during the 2016 campaign but also cyberattacks in general, the senator said. He said the issue of cybersecurity is “spread out over about four different committees in the Senate.”
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was one of four senators who earlier this month called for a thorough investigation of alleged Russian influence in the U.S. election.
He joined Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), incoming Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Armed Services ranking Democrat Jack Reed (R.I.) in issuing a statement.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” the statement read in part. “The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.”