WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic members of the U.S. Congress called on Monday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, similar to the Sept. 11 panel that probed the 2001 attacks on the United States.
Their “Protecting our Democracy Act” would create a 12-member, bipartisan independent panel to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas and receive public testimony to examine attempts by Moscow and any other entities to influence the election.
The panel members would not be members of Congress.
The legislation is one of many calls by lawmakers to look into Russian involvement in the contest, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House race, confounding opinion polls. Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives by larger-than-expected margins.
U.S. intelligence agencies on Friday released a report saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Clinton.
Russia has denied the hacking allegations. A Kremlin spokesman said Monday they were “reminiscent of a witch-hunt.”
“There is no question that Russia attacked us,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a news conference.
Versions of the bill were introduced in both the Senate and House. In the Senate it has 10 sponsors. In the House it is backed by every member of the Democratic caucus, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
However, no Republicans currently back the bill, so its prospects are dim, given Republican control of both houses of Congress.
While a few Republicans, notably Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have supported calls for an independent probe, party leaders have resisted the idea, saying that investigations by Republican-led congressional committees are sufficient.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, who just returned from a trip to the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia with Graham and McCain, said Russia’s actions justified a probe by an independent panel of national experts.
“This is not just about one political party. It’s not even about one election. It’s not even about one country, our country. It is a repeated attempt… around the world, to influence elections,” Klobuchar said.
After Sept 11, 2001, Congress established an independent commission to look into the attacks and make recommendations about how to prevent similar actions in the future. Many of the recommendations were adopted into law.
“The American people felt good about what they did,” Cummings said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Grant McCool)