Dems press Gowdy to subpoena Homeland Security for election hacking documents

Dems press Gowdy to subpoena Homeland Security for election hacking documents
© Greg Nash

Democratic lawmakers are pressing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOur sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.) to subpoena the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for documents related to Russia’s efforts to target state systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

In a letter sent to Gowdy on Monday, the Democrats on the committee accused the Trump administration of withholding “critical information” from Congress on the targeting. 

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Homeland Security said last year that Russian hackers tried to probe election-related systems in 21 states. Most of the activity amounted to only preparations for hacking, such as scanning for vulnerabilities, though both Illinois and Arizona witnessed breaches of state voter registration databases. None of the systems targeted were involved in vote tallying, officials say.

The department formally notified election officials in the affected states in September about the attempts. The department did not disclose the identities of the states in order to protect their confidentiality, but some states chose to publicly identify themselves as targets.

Committee Democrats, led by ranking member Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings on Conway Hatch Act violations: 'This is about right and wrong' House panel votes to subpoena Kellyanne Conway over Hatch Act testimony TSA to send hundreds of workers to southern border to enforce immigration policies MORE (D-Md.) are now accusing Homeland Security of “defying” congressional requests for more information about Moscow’s state targeting efforts. Their letter to Gowdy cites document requests that the lawmakers say either went unanswered or received an inadequate response. 

For instance, Cummings and Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellySenate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices WHIP LIST: The 78 House Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Ill.) asked Homeland Security last October for copies of the department’s notification to the states identifying them as targets of Russian hackers. The new letter accuses the department of responding with a “generic script that provides no specific information.” 

Subsequently, two subcommittees this month asked the department produce a series of documents by Jan. 19, including copies of “all documents related to the Russian government-backed attempts to monitor, penetrate, or hack state election systems during the presidential election campaign of 2016.” Two Republicans signed onto the request. Homeland Security has not responded to the request, according to the letter.

Cummings and his colleagues asked Gowdy to subpoena the department by Feb. 5 for the documents requested earlier this month, or allow the committee to vote on a motion to issue a subpoena. 

“The Intelligence Community has warned us that Russia intends to continue interfering with elections in the United States and around the world,” they wrote. “It is our responsibility to obtain information about what happened in 2016 so we can adequately prepare for future attempts to interfere with our democracy.” 

Homeland Security has been working to engage with state officials on cybersecurity threats to election infrastructure, which is now considered critical. The department is also providing states with security tests, such as cyber hygiene scans, if local officials request them.