Senators of both parties are preparing to employ a new litmus test for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees: making them acknowledge Russia’s alleged election-year cyberattacks.
“We want to hear — I want to hear — from the incoming administration’s nominees that they’re going to take this threat seriously,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters in advance of the avalanche of confirmation hearings that kicks off Tuesday.
In deference to the incoming president, Trump’s transition team is training Cabinet picks to eschew major policy pronouncements and stick to generalities in the nomination hearings, putting them through grueling, hours-long mock sessions called “murder boards.”
But that might be tough after intelligence agencies last week officially accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering a cyber “influence campaign” to sway the election, with an aim that eventually evolved to putting Trump in the Oval Office.
The president-elect himself has repeatedly declined to say whether he agrees with the report, despite receiving a briefing from top U.S. intelligence officials on a classified version of the assessment.
That could leave Trump’s proposed starting lineup in a tough spot as they face both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have expressed reservations about the cozy relationships the real estate mogul and some of his nominees have formed with the Kremlin and Putin.
“The president is entitled to his views and I am entitled to my views and I will do my job as chairman,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters last week when asked if he would hold up Cabinet nominees over Trump’s skepticism on Russian hacking. McCain has vowed to press Trump to strike back at Russia for its election meddling.
McCain’s panel is one of three Senate committees that have launched investigations into Moscow’s alleged interference. Each will oversee the confirmation hearings of key Trump appointments.
The Armed Services Committee — which handles the Defense secretary’s confirmation — held the first public foray into the topic last week. Democrats used the gathering as a forum to chastise Trump and try to drive a wedge between him and Senate Republicans who believe the intelligence community’s findings.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee — which oversees the State Department — also held a closed-door briefing on the topic with Obama administration officials.
And on Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee — in charge of holding confirmation hearings for the CIA director and director of national intelligence — is set to hold a rare open hearing featuring the government’s top intelligence leaders. That hearing could lay the groundwork for the confirmation hearing Wednesday on Rep. Mike Pompeo’s bid to become CIA director.
Warner, the top Intel Democrat, suggested he would hit nominees with questions about Trump’s “rather dismissive attitude of the intelligence community,” in addition to queries on Russian hacking.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services panels, said she’ll press both Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson and retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, on the issue.
“I’m going to be very interested in…