Urgent hearings needed to expose Russian midterm attack

Urgent hearings needed to expose Russian midterm attack
© Thinkstock

There is a clear and present danger that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has directed his intelligence services to attack the 2018 midterm elections for the purpose of destabilizing and, in my opinion, helping Republicans win those elections, as Russia worked to help Trump win the 2016 elections.

This subject is so important to American security and democracy that one of the congressional committees with jurisdiction should urgently organize public hearings to reveal:

  • the techniques the Russians are employing;
  • the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of federal and state programs to combat these attacks; and
  • whether or not the attacks are designed to help Republican candidates against Democrats in 2018.

ADVERTISEMENT
It is possible that Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and his special counsel team, or the FBI in its investigations of Russian attacks against America, have incidentally uncovered evidence of the Russian attack against the 2018 midterm elections, even if such evidence reveals no criminal conduct by any Americans.

 

If so, Mueller and the FBI should provide such information to congressional authorities, if they have not done so already. 

For this and other reasons, increasingly aggressive GOP attacks against Mueller and the FBI are exceptionally ominous and should be stopped immediately and rejected by Americans en masse.

Let's separate out the Russian attacks against the 2018 midterms as uniquely important and urgently begin thorough public hearings on this matter.

If Republican leaders refuse to support such hearings, Democratic leaders should create an informal panel of highly respected Democratic members of the House and Senate to conduct informal public hearings.

These hearings would discuss all publicly available information about the Russian attack against the 2018 midterms and seek testimony from former leading intelligence and law enforcement officials and nationally respected authorities on cyberwar and Russian intelligence practices.

Preferably, Republican leaders would agree to full bipartisan public hearings. If not, Democrats should conduct their own informal public hearings because of the urgency of the threat and the dangers to America of Russian attempts to influence, destabilize or fix the 2018 midterms.

It is widely believed by leading figures in American intelligence and law enforcement officials that the Russian attack that dramatically infected the 2016 presidential campaign continues today and will be escalated and targeted against the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election.

In a recent bombshell of a news story, NBC reported and a leading official in the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that in 2016, Russia targeted, with some success, voter registration rolls in a number of states.

Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at DHS, told NBC, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”  

This revelation has profound importance. If Russia has successfully penetrated voter registration rolls in any state, one can assume Russia seeks to penetrate voter registration rolls in several states and could achieve potentially devastating success.

My most controversial warning in my column this week, and again presently, is that Russia would be most likely to interfere in our 2018 midterms in support of Republican candidates, given that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections in support of the Republican nominee for president.

It would serve the interests of Republican leaders to support an investigation and public hearings about this subject today to expose, deter and potentially prevent the Russian attacks against our midterm elections. 

Republicans and Democrats should call for the maximum possible declassification of current information about Russian attacks against the 2018 midterms.

To what degree has Russia already penetrated state elections systems, and what would be the consequences if Russia succeeds in penetrating and compromising electoral systems in additional states?

Would it be technically possible if Russia penetrates state voter registration rolls for Russia to create Election Day havoc in the midterms by making it appear that legitimately registered voters are not registered? 

For example, could Russia target precincts with large numbers of black or Hispanic voters who are likely to vote Democratic, if their purpose is to help Republican candidates?

Presently, how many DHS officials and experts are working to combat the Russian attack? Does DHS have a sufficient number of experts to accomplish the mission against the powerful and aggressive Russian program that unfortunately achieved much success in 2016?

As of today, which states have devoted sufficient resources to policing their election systems against Russian attacks, and which have not?

The threat of Russian attacks against the 2018 and 2020 elections poses an existential threat to American democracy. Public hearings are urgently needed and should begin promptly.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.