House

Dems launch task force to safeguard elections

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House Democrats on Thursday launched a new task force designed to safeguard the nation’s elections from outside tinkering.

The Democrats say they’re frustrated that Republican leaders have refused to stage even a single hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections in either the Homeland Security or Administration committees, the two panels that have jurisdiction over the issue.

“In light of no activity, we’re left with no choice but to establish this task force and move forward,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, told reporters in the Capitol.

Thompson is joining forces with Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), ranking member of the Administration Committee, to create a special panel that will collect data, conduct hearings and interview experts — including cybersecurity specialists and state and local election officials — for the purpose of protecting future elections from hacking and other external interference.

{mosads}“Committees have finally decided to begin the process of looking backward, in terms of what happened,” Thompson said, an apparent reference to the House and Senate Intelligence committees’ ongoing investigations. “Some of us are concerned that we’re not looking forward. We have elections in 2018. We don’t know to what extent the Russians have really compromised our systems.”

Thompson said the task force will produce a report “that we hope can become the basis for legislation” to protect the 2018 elections.

“If Republicans decide they really want to come and join us,” he added, “they’re absolutely welcome to do it.”

The nation’s top intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections for the purpose of boosting the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who eventually won.

But President Trump himself has been reluctant to acknowledge those findings. And Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have refused the Democrats’ calls for a broader investigation outside the Intelligence panels.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly accused the Republicans of protecting their White House ally at the expense of the nation’s democratic institutions — a charge she leveled once again on Thursday.

“They hacked our democracy. … Unless we act, they will do it again,” Pelosi said, appearing beside Thompson. “The integrity of our democracy is at stake.”

Last week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials revealed that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states leading up to the 2016 elections. But they didn’t reveal which states, prompting the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee to request that information.

DHS Secretary John Kelly was on Capitol Hill on Thursday, appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at a press conference promoting a pair of Republican immigration bills. Kelly left the stage, however, before reporters could pose any questions.

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