House judiciary's top Republican urges hearings into Russian election meddling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday called for hearings into interference by Russia and others in the 2016 election and beyond, on the heels of a statement here by former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and ahead of presidential elections next year.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller Report where the hearing where former White House Counsel Donald McGahn failed to appear on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Though there have been congressional probes into Russian meddling in the U.S. election and other lawmakers have called for more to be done on election security, Republicans have largely remained silent on the issue.

The request comes as the judiciary panel continues to seek documents and evidence stemming from the report written by Mueller, who headed investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. election, whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow and if President Donald Trump had obstructed justice.

In a letter sent to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, Doug Collins wrote: “Please hold immediate, thorough, and productive hearings regarding Russia’s ability to influence our elections. Let us protect our citizens from this criminal behavior.”

In a series of tweets responding to the letter, Nadler did not commit to holding such hearings.

“As the Mueller Report details, the Trump campaign welcomed Russia’s help, the President lied about it after the fact, and tried to obstruct the investigation of this grave threat to our democracy,” Nadler tweeted.

“I welcome (Ranking Member) Collins’ willingness to work on what was uncovered in the Mueller Report concerning Russian election crimes and hope he will join us in responding to the related evidence,” he added.

In the Senate, lawmakers passed legislation, named the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes (DETER) Act, on Monday that would prevent people seeking to disrupt U.S. elections from obtaining visas and authorizes the deportation of such individuals.

The bill was introduced by the No.2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin, and had drawn support from some prominent Republican senators, including Senator Chuck Grassley, his office said in a statement on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear what the chances were of the legislation’s passage in the Democratic-led House.

Mueller, as well as U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, concluded that Russia worked to interfere in the 2016 elections.

In remarks last week here, Mueller said his two-year investigation did not clear Trump of improper behavior and, though he said he could not indict the president, he pointed out there were other ways to hold presidents accountable.

Mueller’s report detailed how Russians created so-called troll farms to spread divisive messages and sow distrust in candidates and the U.S. political system, steered Americans to pro-Trump rallies that they organized, hacked Democratic Party computer networks and traveled the country to collect intelligence.

Mueller did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow and stopped short of stating Trump obstructed justice.

Dan Coats, the top U.S. intelligence official, said last year that foreign powers, including Russia, China and Iran, sought to influence voters during the 2018 midterm elections, but there was no evidence they had penetrated voting systems.

Reporting by Makini Brice; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker