Ryan schedules US election security briefing for lawmakers

Ryan schedules US election security briefing for lawmakers
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wis.) has arranged for top U.S. intelligence officials to brief members of Congress later this week on the Trump administration’s efforts to guard voting systems across the country from hackers.

The briefing comes amid increased fears about threats to the 2018 midterm elections following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, which U.S. officials have said involved hackers targeting state voting infrastructure.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray are set to brief lawmakers on Thursday evening, according to an aide to Ryan. The briefing will be unclassified and members-only, meaning it will be closed to the public.

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The briefing is expected to cover current threats to the U.S. election process and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ongoing efforts to provide voluntary aid to states to secure their systems. Officials will also discuss what state election officials are doing to secure their respective systems.

Thursday's briefing is part of an effort by Republicans to show they are addressing the issue of election security after Democrats have accused GOP leaders and President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE — who has raged against the special counsel investigation into Russian interference — of not having done enough to counter the threat of Russian meddling.

Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonPelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Democrats introduce bill to set up commission to review coronavirus response Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline MORE (Miss.), the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted Ryan on Tuesday morning for what he described as an insufficient and “last minute” effort to address the issue.

Thompson charged that the unclassified nature of the briefing later this week would prevent officials from going into sufficient detail about what the administration is doing to protect voting systems from cyber threats.

“House Republicans have treated election security as a third rung issue for over a year, it is time for them to finally take this national security issue seriously,” Thompson said in a statement. “The next federal election is less than six months away.”

Officials say that Russia targeted digital systems involved in the election process in 21 states as part of a broader effort to interfere with the 2016 vote. They maintain that, in most cases, hackers merely probed for vulnerabilities and did not successfully breach systems; in a small number of states, like Illinois, actors were able to break in. 

Officials insist there is no evidence any vote totals were changed, and that hackers targeted systems not involved in vote tallying.

Since the 2016 election, DHS has been offering vulnerability assessments of digital systems and other assistance to states that request help securing their systems.

Nielsen, Coats and other officials briefed Trump on election security earlier in May.