When the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a former Republican nominee for president, says that Congress needs a special select committee to investigate Russian influence on the last election — and the chamber's top Democrat agrees with him — then the only question ought to be when, where and who gets to serve on it.
Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans continue to resist what ought to be a no-brainer under these extraordinary circumstances. It's bad enough that President-elect Donald Trump continues to deny Vladimir Putin's influence despite the hardening U.S. intelligence consensus on the subject. But others who have enough experience to know better are treating the hacking of an election like it was a ho-hum, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary, business-as-usual event, and that defies logic.
Sens. John McCain and Charles E. Schumer don't have a lot in common, but when they, along with veteran Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jack Reed, reach a bipartisan conclusion, it cannot be ignored. As Senator McCain told an interviewer Sunday about Russian involvement, "there's no doubt they were interfering," yet there's a frightening lack of outrage coming from one side of the aisle. Appointing a committee to look into the matter would seem the minimum reaction.
Select committees are hardly Capital Hill rarities. House Republicans were only too happy to create one for Benghazi, despite considerably lower stakes. Not to minimize the deaths Americans that took place there, but Russian attempts to sway the U.S. election are an attack on our very democratic core. This isn't a handful of terrorists but an actual nation acting in a manner tantamount to war.
Democrats who see this merely as an opportunity to weaken Mr. Trump are likely to pay a price politically. This isn't about Mr. Trump, it's about national security and the very foundation of, and public confidence in, our government. Those are no small matters.
There's another possibility that should concern all Americans: What if Russian hackers have a lot more material that they haven't chosen to release through WikiLeaks? What if they have embarrassing information about Republicans, even Mr. Trump's campaign? There's been evidence leaked that GOP organizations were targeted but no actual sensitive material released. Is it too big a leap to worry that Mr. Putin, a former KGB agent, might have more tricks up his sleeve?
As we've noted on this page before, Mr. Trump is about to assume office under a significant cloud, and the best way to remove it is to have a full and fair investigation. Certainly, it shouldn't be up to Senator McConnell, given that his wife, Elaine Chao, will serve as secretary of transportation in the Trump administration. Mr. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have acknowledged the matter is worthy of investigation by the standing committees that oversee intelligence, so why not go all-in and make it clear that GOP leadership has nothing to hide?
Creation of a select committee might also signal that congressional leadership recognizes that the partisan divide needs to narrow after the election. Russian hacking isn't some bizarre theory postulated by a fake news website, it's a conclusion reached by the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. experts who study such matters. And as President Barack Obama recently pointed out, it's doubtful that these cyberattacks took place without Russian President Putin being in the loop.
Aren't Republicans in the least bit concerned about a strongman dictator and his legion of hackers manipulating the U.S. like a puppet? That used to be exactly the sort of thing that raised hackles with conservatives. Perhaps facts don't matter much at a time when most Republicans think their party's nominee won the popular vote — 52 percent persist in that belief, according to Qaultrics, despite Hillary Clinton's 2.8-million-plus lead at last count. Where are all those tea party moralizers like Rep. Jason Chaffetz who promised "years of investigation" if Ms. Clinton were elected? Apparently, they can't tolerate one bipartisan inquiry when the stakes are actually meaningful.