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Senator Leahy Calls For Tougher Sanctions Against Russia Because Of Cyber Espionage

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Oliver Parini for VPR
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Senator Patrick Leahy, seen here after winning re-election Nov. 8, calls for a strong U.S. response to Russian efforts to influence the recent presidential election.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says a comprehensive review of publicly released reports and more detailed information provided to members of Congress leads to an inescapable conclusion: The Russian government used cyber espionage to influence the presidential election by trying to undermine the credibility of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

"Nobody should doubt the intelligence services on this, that Russia was involved and Russia wanted to influence our election,” Leahy says. “This is one of the few times where you've seen all our intelligence services agreeing."  

Leahy says this is an issue where the United States needs to take a tough stand against Russia. He says that means imposing a series of strong economic sanctions.

"I think if we don't have tough sanctions, I think this sort of thing continues," he says. “I think we have to start saying what the real standards of America are." 

Leahy has joined with Arizona senator John McCain and South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham in calling for the appointment of an independent commission to fully investigate Russian hacking activities.

He says the new allegations that the Russians have also compiled potentially damaging information about President-elect Donald Trump is another reason for Congress to look into all of the Russian activities.

"That's why I think we should have an independent non-partisan commission," the senator says. "Not a Republican commission, not a Democratic commission, but something totally independent."

"I think if we don't have tough sanctions, I think this sort of thing continues." - Sen. Patrick Leahy

Matt Dickinson is a political science professor at Middlebury College. He says the bi-partisan call for an independent commission means members of the Senate have sent a clear message to the president-elect.

"'Listen, we're co-equals here. We are responsible for governing together and we just want to remind you that you have to take our needs and our concerns into account as you settle into your presidency,'" he says.

Dickinson says this could be a hard but important lesson for the president-elect to address. "This is not being CEO of Trump Enterprises where his word is fiat," Dickinson says. "He's in a shared governing perspective, and the sooner I think he realizes that the better off everybody will be." 

Dickinson notes that McCain and Leahy have worked together in the past on issues of common interest including immigration reform. He says he won't be surprised if the two senators find other issues to work together on in the new Congress. "There are some on which their principles like opposition to torture transcends partisanship, and on those issues you could see the potential for collaboration in the future,” said Dickinson.

Leahy says Russian efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election should be viewed as part of that country's larger operation to discredit democratically-elected governments throughout the world.