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Rift grows within GOP as expelled Russian diplomats fly home

The diplomats were ordered to leave the US within 72 hours, after they were accused of being Russian spies. President-elect Trump is sowing discord within his party over doubts about Russian involvement.

The 35 Russian diplomats accused by the United States of being spies and ordered to leave the US were flown out of the country on Sunday amid a growing rift in the Republican Party over the expulsion order by President Barack Obama.

On Sunday, a top aide to President-elect Donald Trump said the Obama administration may have overreacted in ordering the expulsion of the Russian diplomats, but on Capitol Hill Republican senators were saying the White House Response did not go far enough.

Trump's chief spokesman, Sean Spicer, said during a Sunday public affairs program that the president-elect will be asking questions of US intelligence agencies this week regarding their conclusions that Russian intelligence hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and a top aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"One of the questions that we have is why the magnitude of this? I mean, you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is: Is that response in proportion to the actions taken?" Spicer said. "Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't, but you have to think about that."

Watch video 00:35

Obama sanctions Russia over alleged election hacking

Doubling down on doubts

The closing of the two sites was a reference to the closing of two Russian facilities that President Obama said were spy dens.

On Saturday, Trump doubled down on his doubts that the Russians were involved in the hackings

"I think it's unfair if we don't know," Trump said. "It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don't know so we cannot be sure."

Trump said he would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday, but he did not elaborate. It's unclear if, upon taking office on Jan. 20, Trump would seek to roll back Obama's actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in US-Russian relations.

If so, Trump can expect strong resistance not only from Democrats but from fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyberthreats. He has said Russia must be made to pay a price for attacks "on our very fundamentals of democracy."

That sentiment was echoed by another, archly conservative Republican senator, Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Speaking on another Sunday talk show, Cotton said, flatly, that Obama's punishment of Russia did not go far enough.

bik/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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