Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wants to give the impression that he supports an investigation into the Russian interference with the U.S. presidential election.
He released a statement that gives the impression that he does.
But closer scrutiny of Ryan’s position reveals he really is just deferring to a Trump loyalist who promptly announced he would not pursue the issue.
On Monday, Ryan issued an ambiguous statement saying while he finds any foreign intervention into U.S. elections unacceptable, he thought that the normal functioning of the House Intelligence Committee was sufficient to investigate the issue.
“Throughout this Congress, Chairman Nunes and the Intelligence Committee have been working diligently on the cyber threats posed by foreign governments and terrorist organizations to the security and institutions of the United States. This important work will continue and has my support.”
Ryan’s endorsement of the continuing work of the Intelligence Committee, however, is not an endorsement of an investigation into the allegations that Russian actors attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
“Exploiting the work of our intelligence committee for partisan purposes does a grave disservice to those professionals and potentially jeopardizes our national security,” Ryan continued. “As we work to protect our democracy from foreign influence, we should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election.”
Thus far, this is the strongest stance Ryan has taken on an investigation: a statement that the House Intelligence committee is already doing such work, and that he trusts Rep. Nunes to handle the issue.
Nunes, however, says he has no intention of opening an investigation.
“At this time I do not see any benefit in opening further investigations, which would duplicate current committee oversight efforts and Intelligence Community inquiries,” said Nunes, citing the Committee’s previous investigations into cyber attacks, including Russian attacks.
This isn’t particularly surprising for Nunes. On Friday, in response to the allegations, Nunes issued a statement that attacked the Obama Administration, and did not mention the need for any new investigations.
“Russia’s cyber-attacks are no surprise to the House Intelligence Committee,” Nunes’ Friday statement read. “Unfortunately the Obama administration, dedicated to delusions of ‘resetting’ relations with Russia, ignored pleas by numerous Intelligence Committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression.”
Nunes is a member of Trump’s transition team.
Ryan opened his statement about the attacks saying “we must condemn and push back forcefully against any state-sponsored cyberattacks on our democratic process.”
However, instead of addressing the attacks with a congressional investigation, what emerged on Monday was a political two-step: Ryan issued an ambiguous statement that gave him cover without actually saying anything at all.
It’s working. Some news outlets, including BBC and The Hill, ran with Ryan’s version of the story.
Instead, what Ryan actually did was pass the buck to Nunes, who promptly announced he’d drop the issue.
Ryan’s team, however, wants you to believe he supports an investigation. His spokesman, Brendan Buck, pushed that interpretation on Twitter.
yes, goodness, but also that this work has already been taking place. Folks should stop acting like HPSCI has ignored this.
— Brendan Buck (@BrendanBuck) December 12, 2016
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell took a similar approach. In a press conference Monday morning, McConnell said that he supported an investigation into the issue, but only one following “the regular order.”
That is, only a hearing within the regular workings of the Congressional Intelligence Committee, which is currently chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). In his 2016 reelection campaign, Burr closely tied himself and his policies to Donald Trump.
Burr would be able to determine what aspects of any investigation would be released to the public.
McConnell specifically said that there was no need for a special select investigation into the Russian hacking allegations, such as the one called for by Sen. John McCain.