President Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security indicated Tuesday that he would keep in place the Obama administration’s designation of election infrastructure as “critical.”
“I believe we should help all of the states to make sure their systems are protected, so I would argue we should keep that in place,” Secretary John Kelly said during testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee in response to questioning from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).
The Obama administration designated the U.S. election infrastructure as “critical” in January, just two weeks before Trump’s inauguration.
The move extended to storage facilities, polling places and centralized vote tabulation locations supporting the election process, as well as information and communications technology such as voter registration databases and voting machines.
The decision resulted in these systems being subject to federal protections.
“Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law,” then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said at the time.
Many state and local election officials opposed the designation, though Johnson stressed that it did not amount to “a federal takeover.”
The decision was announced the same day as the release of the intelligence community’s unclassified report on the Russian government’s alleged hacking and disinformation campaign aimed at the helping Trump win the U.S. presidential election.
Trump has expressed skepticism about the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia intervened in the election to undermine U.S. democracy and damage his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE.
Meanwhile, Trump has alleged that millions of individuals voted illegally in the election, despite a lack of evidence, and has promised an investigation into voter fraud.
The intelligence community did not find evidence that voting tallying systems were breached, though Russian agents did access elements of state and local electoral boards, calling into question their security.
Dozens of U.S. states requested help from the Department of Homeland Security in safeguarding their election systems against cyber threats ahead of the presidential election, following the initial revelations about Russian meddling.
Tuesday’s hearing marked Kelly’s first appearance before the committee since being sworn in to lead the department.