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US Senate set to probe reports of Russian election hacking

US Republican senator John McCain has called for a bipartisan investigation into the Kremlin's activities during the US presidential election
Ken Thomas, Associated Press

THE top US Senate Republican says that Congress will investigate a CIA assessment that Russia interfered in the November election on behalf of Donald Trump, an intelligence conclusion that the incoming commander in chief has called "ridiculous".

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that an inquiry would be conducted by the Senate intelligence panel.

Two key Senate Republicans - John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading Trump critic - have joined with two Democrats in seeking a bipartisan investigation into the Kremlin's activities during the election.

"Obviously any foreign breach of our cyber security measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn any such efforts," Mr McConnell said.

Unlike Mr Trump, who has expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Mr McConnell said flatly: "The Russians are not our friends."

The CIA recently concluded with "high confidence" that Russia sought to influence the US election on behalf of Mr Trump, raising red flags among lawmakers concerned about the sanctity of the US voting system and potentially straining relations at the start of President-elect Trump's administration.

Mr Trump said on Sunday the recent CIA assertion that Russian hacking had sought to help his candidacy was "ridiculous", and he praised ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has emerged as the leading contender to lead the State Department.

Russia expects to figure prominently at the start of a week in which Mr Trump is expected to name more members of his cabinet, which also has vacancies in the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs.

Mr Trump's transition team announced on Monday that his choice to head the Department of Homeland Security is, as expected, Gen John Kelly.

General Kelly is a former commander of US Southern Command with "unique insight into some of the challenges the United States faces at its southern border", the announcement said.

"It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin," Mr McCain said of Mr Tillerson.

"And obviously they've done enormous deals together." In an interview with CBS show Face the Nation, Mr McCain said:

"That would colour his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat."

During his campaign Mr Trump weathered turbulent relations with fellow Republicans but has since forged a more united front with GOP politicians since his November victory over Hillary Clinton.

In a wide-ranging interview with Fox News on Sunday, Mr Trump dismissed those concerns as little more than partisan griping.

"I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country. And frankly, I think they're putting it out. And it's ridiculous," Mr Trump said.

The incoming president said he did not necessarily oppose calls from President Barack Obama for an inquiry into the 2016 campaign hacking, but said it should not be solely focused on a single culprit.

"If you're gonna to do that, I think you should not just say 'Russia'. You should say other countries also, and maybe other individuals," he said.

The White House has said the probe would focus on any breaches by other countries along with hacking committed in previous elections.

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