Democrats working on independent Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been undertaking their own investigation, without Republicans, on what they term “Russia’s malign influence around the world,” a spokesman for the Democratic side of the committee said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) speaks at a press conference on the need for increased government transparency at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Sean Bartlett, a spokesman for Senator Ben Cardin, who has been leading the effort, said the Democrats are preparing a “major report” on how Russia seeks to sow distrust and confusion, promote radical voices on divisive issues and gain leverage, while eroding support for democracy and institutions.

The investigation was first reported by The Daily Beast.

It comes as a handful of Republican-led congressional committees, including the Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence Committees, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and whether there was collusion between Republican President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Trump has denied any collusion. Moscow denies meddling.

While the Foreign Relations Democrats are not looking into the U.S. contest, they said they had discovered Russian-led efforts to influence elections in many countries.

“The report describes how these efforts are led by the government’s security services and buttressed by state-owned enterprises, Kremlin-aligned oligarchs, and Russian criminal groups that have effectively been nationalized by the state,” Bartlett said in an emailed statement.

The committee’s investigations have included contacts with foreign governments. Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are among countries that have discussed Russian meddling.

Committee Republicans said they were aware of the investigation, but not involved.

“We are aware that Senator Cardin is developing a report on Russian efforts to interfere in European elections, but his staff has not yet shared it with us,” said Micah Johnson, a spokeswoman for Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s Republican chairman.

It was not clear when the report might be released publicly.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish