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Corker said Tuesday his committee would hold both open hearings and classified sessions

"We are going to systematically walk through the entire Russia issue," he said

Washington CNN —  

The influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to launch a new review about Russia’s hacking of the elections, the latest push by a top Republican to explore allegations of improper meddling by the Kremlin – despite President-elect Donald Trump’s own skepticism of the issue.

Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who heads the panel, told CNN Tuesday his committee would hold open hearings and classified sessions to get to the bottom of Russian involvement.

“We are going to systematically walk through the entire Russia issue and fully understand what has transpired,” Corker said Tuesday.

It will be the third Senate committee planning to dig into the issue next year, joining the Armed Services Committee led by Arizona Sen. John McCain and the Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.

But these three reviews stop short of a separate standing committee whose sole task is to investigate the matter – similar to the way House Republicans established a panel to review the 2012 Benghazi attacks. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan back the inquiries in the existing committees in Congress, they have resisted calls to establish a new stand-alone panel, something that could grow unwieldy and amount to a political threat to Trump.

Corker said there’s no question that Russia meddled into domestic affairs, but said he didn’t know if the hackers intended to sway the election to Trump.

“Putin remarkably and disappointingly has ended up being front and center on the world stage,” Corker said. “It’s hard to believe for a country that has so little going for it.”

He later reiterated to CNN that he feels it’s an important issue to look into.

“Any time we have a country that is trying to discredit our democracy, it’s an important issue for us to pursue,” Corker told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” later Tuesday. “How deep it goes and whether they actually tried to tip it toward a candidate or not it’s hard for me to discern at present.”

Corker praise for Tillerson

Corker’s committee will have a busy January, starting with confirmation hearings for Trump’s choice of secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the head of oil giant ExxonMobil.

Corker, who was a finalist for the secretary of state job and spoke to Trump Monday night, heaped praise on Tillerson, calling him the “very best choice” for Trump because of his “background and experience” in running a major international corporation.

“He has an incredible working knowledge of the world,” Corker said. “If you look at these CEOs of these global enterprises, in many ways they are secretaries of state for these companies. He brings a tremendous amount to the table.”

Yet Corker also conceded that he had little knowledge of Tillerson’s personal views on Russia, something that has caused concern among several key Republicans who are uneasy about the nominee’s friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I have no idea what his feelings are on Russia,” Corker said, referring specifically to the country’s presence in Ukraine and the Baltics. He also said he had “zero idea” about Tillerson’s views of NATO, an organization that Trump has criticized on the campaign trail.

“I’ve never had a single conversation with him on any of those things,” Corker said.

Tillerson has come under criticism from Democrats and some Republicans for opposing sanctions on Russia. Corker said that in 2014 as Congress was moving on the issue, he had a conversation with Tillerson about the matter. But he said it “wasn’t a controversial” call and the two mainly discussed how the sanctions would be implemented.

“I got to believe that his approach to Russia is not going to be a great variance of what US foreign policy has been for some time,” Corker said. “He is going to be carrying out Trump’s foreign policy. What people will want to know is what direction he will influence” Trump.

Corker added: “I gotta believe again when you are putting the secretary of state hat on, it’s different than the CEO of Exxon hat.”