Judiciary Dems demand immediate hearings on election hacking

Judiciary Dems demand immediate hearings on election hacking
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding “immediate” hearings on cyber vulnerabilities in U.S. election infrastructure, amid sustained concerns about the prospect of Russian meddling in future elections.

The lawmakers wrote to Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteWill Congress ever hold our federal agencies accountable for contempt? Lots of love: Charity tennis match features lawmakers teaming up across the aisle Dems try to end hearing on bias against conservatives in tech MORE (R-Va.) on Thursday asking him to call leaders of the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and State before the committee to explain what steps the Trump administration “may or may not be taking to ensure the integrity of our state and federal elections.” 

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“We believe the threat is urgent,” wrote the Democrats, led by ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “We cannot afford to ignore the mounting evidence of a coordinated effort to undermine the most basic and essential aspects of democratic process.”

The letter cited an interview with top Homeland Security cyber official Jeanette Manfra published by NBC News on Wednesday, in which she acknowledged that Russian hackers successfully penetrated a small number of voter registration databases ahead of the 2016 elections. It had already been reported that Moscow hacked into voter rolls in Arizona and Illinois. 

Officials in Arizona took the state database offline for several days after discovering hackers had delivered malware to a county election official's computer, but maintain the actual database was never breached.

The letter also pointed to recent statements by Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Memo: Putin furor sparks new questions on Kelly’s future US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business Matt Drudge shares mock ‘Survivor’ cover suggesting more White House officials will leave this summer MORE and CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump warns Iran's Rouhani: Threaten us 'and you will suffer' Pompeo: Iran's leaders resemble the mafia US commander: Challenge with North Korea is making progress despite lack of trust MORE that Moscow is likely to meddle in future U.S. elections. 

The Democratic lawmakers also accused the Justice Department of taking little “if any” steps to secure election systems, citing previous testimony from Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump ramps up scrutiny of legal immigrants Data confirm that marijuana decriminalization is long overdue The FIRST STEP Act sets up a dangerous future MORE that the U.S. is not in the position it needs to be in to stop future Russian interference.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told lawmakers that the bureau is looking to “get in front” of the threat going forward. Wray has set up a “foreign influence task force” within the bureau to monitor the issue and agents are engaging with other federal officials as well as international partners to understand and disrupt meddling efforts. 

Meanwhile, Homeland Security is providing cyber vulnerability testing and other services to state officials that request help in securing their voting infrastructure, as part of the department’s decision to designate election infrastructure as “critical” one year ago.

The department has confirmed that Russia targeted election-related systems in 21 states leading up to the election. Most of the targeting involved preparations for hacking, such as probing for vulnerabilities. None of the systems targeted were involved in vote tabulations.

This post was updated at 2:15 p.m.