Week ahead: Congress itching for answers on WikiLeaks, Trump wiretapping claims

March 13, 2017
In The News

The new week on Capitol Hill is poised to bring more questions about WikiLeaks' release of documents purportedly exposing the CIA's hacking operations.

Lawmakers have already raised questions and concerns about the documents, which the CIA has not publicly confirmed are authentic. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) demanded an immediate congressional investigation, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked for a classified hearing on the matter for lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee.

It is unclear, though, how the congressional committees with oversight of the intelligence community will approach the WikiLeaks release.

Aides for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees declined to disclose to The Hill whether they would launch investigations, though House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is making "inquiries" into it.

"The chairman has said that the WikiLeaks issue is very concerning and that the Committee is making inquiries into the situation--that's the extent of our comments at this time," a spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee told The Hill on Friday.

The CIA and FBI are reportedly cooperating on a federal probe into the leaks, focusing on how they ended up in the hands of WikiLeaks and whether they came from an employee or federal contractor.

"You are now looking at ways our intelligence agencies do business being revealed. It has all kind of ramifications. It's going to cause a real fundamental evaluation of everything we do, including [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday. "The first priority is: Who's getting this information? Who's able to reveal this kind of information?"

Vice President Mike Pence also said that the Trump administration would "use the full force of the law" to hold those involved in the leaks accountable if the documents are found to be real.

Lawmakers will also keep pressing for answers on President Trump's claim, without evidence, that former President Obama had his "wires tapped" at Trump Tower ahead of the presidential election.

The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee have formally asked the Justice Department for evidence--including orders and warrants--related to Trump's claim. White House press secretary Sean Spicer would not say Friday whether Trump would apologize to Obama if no evidence is produced to back up the accusation.

The upcoming week could also feature a floor vote on confirming Dan Coats, the former Republican Indiana senator who Trump has picked to serve as director of national intelligence (DNI). The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence advanced his nomination on Thursday, and Coats is likely to be easily confirmed by the full Senate.  

There's still speculation on the progress of Trump's cybersecurity executive order, which was abruptly delayed by the White House in January. Sam Palmisano, former president and CEO of IBM who served on an Obama-era cybersecurity commission, told reporters on Monday that he had been invited by the White House to give a reaction to the revised order.

However, a White House aide told The Hill recently that the administration had "no update" on the progress of the order.

Questions about Russian election hacking could also surface at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, which will assess the "next steps" for U.S. sanctions against Russia and feature a panel of economic and sanctions experts.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to ramp up sanctions on Russia for its election meddling and other destabilizing behavior.

Additionally, the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities will hear from experts on Wednesday about how to counter information warfare and propaganda, which could also fuel debate about Russian disinformation efforts in the U.S. and Europe.

Outside of Capitol Hill, the annual South by Southwest conference and festival is taking place in Austin, and will host a panel Monday on "legislating against cyber threats" featuring Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection.

One figure who won't appear at the conference is FBI Director James Comey, who pulled out of his appearance last week, citing scheduling conflicts.