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John McCain at odds with Trump over Russia

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

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WASHINGTON -- President-elect Donald Trump is the business titan who has spoken appreciatively of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republican Sen. John McCain is the tough-talking national security hawk who warns that Russian interference in the U.S. election threatens to “destroy democracy.”

McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on Sunday joined Democrats in calling for a special select committee to investigate foreign cyberattacks, putting him at odds not only with the incoming GOP president but with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who favors allowing the Intelligence committee to take the lead on the inquiry.

“We need a select committee. We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to find out exactly what was done and what the implications of the attacks were, especially if they had an effect on our election,” McCain said. “There’s no doubt they were interfering and no doubt that it was cyberattacks. The question now is how much and what damage and what should the United States of America do? And so far, we have been totally paralyzed.”

McCain joined Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island in a letter to McConnell, calling on him to support them in creating a temporary Select Committee on Cyber. An aide to McConnell said he would review the letter.

The select committee, they wrote, would focus on two areas: conducting a comprehensive investigation of Russian interference in the election as well as broadly tackling the issue of cyber and developing comprehensive recommendations and new legislation.

“We share your respect for, and deference to, the regular order of the Senate, and we recognize that this is an extraordinary request. However, we believe it is justified by the extraordinary scope and scale of the cyber problem,” the letter said. “Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to address this unique challenge.”

Trump calls reports of Russian hacking “ridiculous” and his transition team dismissed the CIA assessment, saying it was the work of the same people who claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

CIA Director John Brennan has said the intelligence community is in agreement that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, though there’s no evidence Moscow succeeded in helping Trump win. But the charge, along with Trump’s selection of a potential secretary of state with business ties to Russia, has divided a GOP riven by a fierce presidential primary and Trump’s refusal to single out Moscow for criticism.

The fractures within the Republican Party will test longstanding GOP orthodoxy that saw Russia as a threat and responded to Putin’s annexation of Crimea with tough sanctions.

“I think reality is going to intercede at one point or another,” McCain said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” on the eve of the Electoral College vote expected to formalize Trump’s victory. Trump, McCain suggested, “will very quickly understand what the Russians are all about.”

The Twitter-loving Trump did not immediately respond to McCain’s remarks. But the president-elect’s incoming chief of staff refused Sunday to say that the president-elect trusts the CIA’s conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee in a bid to help the real estate mogul defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“They haven’t been totally up front and transparent in their opinion as to who, what, where and how this all happened,” Reince Priebus said of the intelligence community on “Fox News Sunday.”

Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said Friday that his Intelligence panel “will follow the intelligence wherever it leads.” McCain at Armed Services and Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of Foreign Relations, also plan inquiries.

McCain and Trump have clashed throughout the campaign. Trump bashed McCain as a “loser” and “not a war hero” because he was shot down and captured during the Vietnam War. McCain criticized Trump for making disparaging remarks about NATO, immigrants, Muslims and a “Gold Star” family that lost a son in Iraq - and for refusing to say he’d accept the presidential election results unless he won. McCain dropped his tepid support for his party’s nominee in October over the release of a recording in which Trump boasts about assaulting women.

President Barack Obama has ordered a full review of any Russian involvement before he leaves office next month.

While Trump’s choice of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state has drawn concern among some Republicans, he is expected to win confirmation despite ties to Russia.