King, Collins, Pingree back probe on possible Russian meddling in Trump’s election

Clockwise from top left, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Sen, Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Clockwise from top left, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Sen, Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Three of Maine’s four members of Congress said they support a new investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. election, with the fourth, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, leaving the door open to such a probe.

The specter of Russian influence hung over much of Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. She was damaged by Wikileaks troves including transcripts of paid speeches to Wall Street firms and emails from the Democratic National Committee.

In October, outgoing U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the American intelligence community was confident that the Russian government directed the hacks, which were intended to interfere with the election. But the FBI and CIA have recently given conflicting accounts about Russia’s motives, according to The Washington Post.

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of senators came out in favor of a probe of Russian election interference, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, joining them on Monday.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Monday that he’s also in favor of a probe. Last month, he joined committee Democrats to urge the Obama administration to declassify information on Russian election influence gleaned in a confidential hearing.

Trump has promised closer relations with Russia, and he encouraged them to hack Clinton’s emails in July. But he told Fox News on Sunday that claims of Russian interference were “another excuse” and he didn’t believe them. King told CNN on Monday that Trump shouldn’t “blow off” Clapper.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who is also on the intelligence committee, said in a Monday statement that a bipartisan investigation “could be useful toward achieving an objective accounting of any alleged meddling by foreign adversaries.” On Tuesday, Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said the senator supported the probe.

Collins said any investigation shouldn’t relitigate the election, but must “focus on the long overdue task of improving the defenses of the United States against our adversaries in cyberspace.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a statement that the CIA’s assessment of Russian influence is “frightening and represents a threat to our nation,” calling for swift hearings “to get to the bottom of this situation.”

And Brendan Conley, a spokesman for Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District said he’d “condemn any state-sponsored cyberattacks” against the U.S., “including any real or perceived attacks on our election system.”

“The most critical thing, however, is that any probe be bipartisan in nature,” Conley said. “We must have objective analysis of what did, or did not, take place.”

Clarification: This piece was updated to reflect a Tuesday clarification from Collins’ office about her position on the probe after a Monday statement.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.