GOP chairman pledges to tackle Russian meddling efforts 'head on'

GOP chairman pledges to tackle Russian meddling efforts 'head on'
© Greg Nash

The head of the House Homeland Security Committee vowed Wednesday to tackle any efforts by Russia to interfere in U.S. elections ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“We are not in any way trying to avoid this issue. I want to take this issue head on,” Chairman Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulThe Hill's 12:30 Report Trump immigration comments spark chaos in GOP Hillicon Valley: 'Stingray' spying fears spark calls for action | AI debate flares at Google | Experts warn Russian malware more widespread | Lawmakers want Facebook to be more transparent MORE (R-Texas) said during a committee markup hearing.

McCaul's pledge comes after Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHillicon Valley: 'Stingray' spying fears spark calls for action | AI debate flares at Google | Experts warn Russian malware more widespread | Lawmakers want Facebook to be more transparent House panel votes down measure to force DHS to detail ZTE threat New Poor People’s Campaign has the laudable goal of focusing on the neediest among us MORE (Miss.), the top Democrat on the panel, charged that the GOP chairman has failed to adequately act in light of Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential race.

Thompson prodded McCaul to hold hearings to see what their panel could do to address the issue, pointing to the overwhelming conclusion held by the intelligence community that Russia attempted to sway the 2016 election and may try to interfere in U.S. affairs again.

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“I am profoundly disappointed that this committee is not showing leadership on one of the most significant threats our nation faces — the threat to our election systems,” Thompson said Wednesday, noting that electoral primaries in McCaul’s home state of Texas kicked off the previous day.

“It seems that the Trump administration and this committee under your leadership are putting the same amount of effort toward this indisputable homeland security threat — none whatsoever,” he asserted.

McCaul, who has repeatedly condemned Russia for its interference efforts in the 2016 election, pushed back on the panel's ranking member, insisting he takes the threat of election meddling seriously.

“I look forward to working with you to conduct a full hearing on this issue, as it not only was a real impact in the last presidential election but I believe it will be a real event in the midterm 2018 elections,” he said.

Top law enforcement and intelligence officials including the director of national intelligence have continued to publicly warn that Russia will actively work to interfere in U.S. elections.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2018 midterm U.S. elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsGOP senator places hold on Trump counterintelligence nominee Civil liberties groups press Trump administration on NSA call record collection Trump’s ‘Syraqistan’ strategy is a success — and a failure MORE said during the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing last month on worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

U.S. officials say Russian hackers targeted the election infrastructure in 21 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election and, in a small number of cases, were successful in penetrating the systems.

While the systems targeted ahead of 2016 were not involved in vote tallying, the revelation has nevertheless spurred concerns that election vulnerabilities could be exploited once again as the 2018 midterms rapidly approach.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups last month for their alleged efforts use "information warfare" to sow discord across the country through social media and other sophisticated tactics.