Government

Ryan, Johnson Back Probe into Russian Hacking

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WARREN, Ohio – U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson and Tim Ryan agreed this morning that Congress should investigate the findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the presidential election.

Johnson, R-6 Ohio, and Ryan, D-13 Ohio, were interviewed following their participation as panelists at the Fueling America’s Future panel discussion held at the Avalon Inn and Resort in Howland Township.

In recent days, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have called for an investigation.

Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump dismissed claims that Russia interfered in the election.

Johnson said he hasn’t seen any of the intelligence reports or evidence but that nothing would surprise him where the Russians were concerned. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s background is with the KGB, the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency, and based on his actions in the Ukraine and Syria the Russians “absolutely bear watching,” he said.

“We need to answer those questions. If Majority Leader McConnell, having seen the evidence, believes there’s credible evidence, that needs to be investigated. I certainly do believe that we need to find out,” Johnson said.

Cybersecurity is a “big, big issue” and the Russians aren’t the only ones attempting to hack into U.S. intelligence, financial, health-care or even elections systems, he added.

Ryan agreed with the need for an investigation, and called for Congress to establish a select committee.

“My friends on the Republican side did this” – established special committees to investigate Bengazi and Planned Parenthood, for example – “so they’re not afraid to set up a select committee,” the Democrat remarked.

“You hear people talk about Vladimir Putin in other contexts and he’s a villain, he’s a bad guy, he’s a killer,” he said. “So why wouldn’t he try to influence our election if he could? This is not a friend of the United States.”

If the investigation bears out that Russia did attempt to influence the election for a Trump victory, that is “a very big deal,” Ryan added.

“Not to rehash any of the elections stuff, but we never did see Donald Trump’s taxes so we really don’t know what his relationship is with the Russian government. We do know that his former campaign manager had ties to the Russian side of the fight in the Ukraine,” he continued. “So those are questions we need to have answered and we need to have an investigation to do that.”

Ryan also expressed concern over cybersecurity. “What the American people need to really pay attention to is a lot of the warring that happens between countries is no long aboveboard, where people are shooting at each other,” he said.

The two congressmen found less common ground when came to Trump’ latest cabinet picks. This morning Trump announced Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, as his nominee to serve as secretary of state, and former Texas Gov. Rick Petty as his energy secretary.

Neither Ryan nor Johnson would have a vote on the nominees, who are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

So far, Trump is taking a “very businesslike perspective” in making his cabinet choices, Johnson said. “He’s going to be focused on jobs and the economy,” he said.

Johnson took note of the individuals who have come out in support of Tillerson, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

“I’m certainly willing to give the gentleman a chance to see how well he can do the job, and I don’t think that Mr. Trump would have selected him if he didn’t think he could,” he said.

Ryan – along with other Democratic and Republican members of Congress – expressed concern over Tillerson’s business dealings and “very close ties” with Russia.

“He’s getting awards from Vladimir Putin,” he remarked.

“If you want someone who is going to build a workable relationship with Russia and reel Russia in, would you not want someone that can at least have a conversation in that regard?” Johnson questioned. “I think we would be finding out pretty quick whether or not this person might be siding with Russia in issues opposed to American interests”

There also is value in the adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” he added.

On Perry, Johnson said he has met with the former Texas governor several times. “He comes from a state that is rich in energy development, oil and gas and alternative enegry,” he said. “Texas has a lot of experience on energy infrastructure and Gov. Perry was in charge during that period of time.”

Ryan does not think Perry has a “robust” position on renewable energy, which the congressman sees as a “great opportunity to resuscitate manufacturing.” Wind turbines, for example have 8,000 component parts that can be manufactured domestically, he noted.

“I hope he is open to these ideas. He can have close ties to the oil industry and still be for renewables, I hope,” Ryan said. “If you’re going to move away from what I see as a real opportunity for us, then it’s a missed opportunity for the United States.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.