Democratic senator accuses White House of blocking election security legislation

Democratic senator accuses White House of blocking election security legislation
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Va.) on Monday said the White House is blocking election security legislation from moving through the Senate.

Warner said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations that multiple measures he has introduced to secure U.S. elections against foreign interference are not receiving a floor vote in the Senate because of objections from the White House.

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Warner and several Democrats last week tried to pass the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act by unanimous consent but were blocked by Republicans.

The bill would require campaigns to notify the FBI about any attempts by foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections.

The topic has gained traction in Congress following President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE’s recent comments to ABC News that he would consider accepting information on a political opponent from a foreign government.

Warner on Monday described Trump’s comments as “utterly outrageous.”

“In terms of the reporting, a number of Republican colleagues have indicated that they thought that would be common sense to say that if a foreign government intervenes, you have to tell the FBI. What is stopping this is the White House,” he said referring to the legislation.

Warner added that the only way to get around the objections of the administration is if “Americans of goodwill of both political parties say that our democracy, and the integrity of that democracy, is more important than the feelings and sensibilities of the current occupant of the White House.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Warner's remarks.

Warner, who is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said that the panel's report on election security issues regarding the 2016 presidential election is going through “declassification.” He did not provide an update on when the report will be released.

Warner told The Hill last week that the committee’s investigation into the issue is also being held up by the Justice Department’s “unwillingness to share” the underlying counterintelligence evidence used by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE in compiling his 448-page Russia report.

On Monday, Warner also discussed the potential threat to fifth-generation wireless technology, or 5G, from Chinese telecommunications group Huawei, along with threats of Chinese cyber espionage tactics used to steal U.S. intellectual property.

Warner advocated for a “short-term national strategy” to deal with such threats.

The potential security threat posed by Huawei has been a focus of U.S. officials who are urging foreign allies to remove the company's access to their networks.

The Commerce Department announced last month that Huawei has been added to its “entity list,” effectively banning the firm from buying components from American companies without the approval of the federal government. The agency subsequently granted a 90-day extension before the move goes into effect in order to allow tech and telecom companies to make arrangements for transitioning away from Huawei components.

But despite those moves, Warner expressed concern that Huawei could become a bargaining chip in the trade war with China, and that the Trump administration would backtrack on its moves to ban Huawei equipment.

Warner called such a scenario a potential disaster.

“We are finally starting to make some progress with our allies in terms of raising the very legitimate concerns about Huawei and other Chinese telecom providers in the 5G area,” Warner said. “If that were to be traded away as a trading chip, then the ability for our intelligence community, the ability for our technology community to have any credibility on a going forward basis would be incredibly diminished.”