Democrats seize on Mueller hearings in election security push

Democrats seize on Mueller hearings in election security push

Democrats calling for action on election security legislation got a boost from Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE this week after the former special counsel issued a dire warning to lawmakers about Russia’s intentions for 2020.

Mueller emphasized during Wednesday’s hearings that in addition to interfering in the 2016 presidential election, the Kremlin is laying the groundwork “as we sit here” for a repeat performance next year.

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Interference in the last presidential election did not consist of a “single attempt,” but instead entailed a large social media disinformation campaign and hacking operations, the former FBI director said.

“Over the course of my career, I've seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government's effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.”

Mueller’s 448-page report, released in April, detailed how Russian actors hacked into the Democratic National Committee, engineered a social media disinformation campaign that favored President Trump and conducted “computer intrusion operations” against those working on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign.

Those findings were bolstered Thursday when the Senate Intelligence Committee released the first volume of its lengthy investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The panel found that “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level.”

Senate Democrats made quick use of Mueller's remarks by pushing for passage of long-stalled election security bills.

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On Wednesday night, just a few hours after the Mueller hearings, Democratic Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Facebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (Va.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (Ore.) went to the Senate floor to seek unanimous consent to pass various election security measures.

The measures would require political campaigns to report foreign contacts to federal authorities and allow the Senate sergeant at arms to offer cyber assistance to senators and staff for personal devices and accounts.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked the bills from consideration and accused Democrats of playing politics.

“Senate Democrats try to push partisan election bills without going through regular order right after the House hearings w/Mueller. Coincidence? Nope. Just more political theater instead of working together to secure US elections,” she tweeted.

Democrats made another attempt on Thursday, when Blumenthal and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (D-N.Y.) took to the floor to ask for unanimous consent to consider the Securing America’s Federal Elections (SAFE) Act and the Duty to Report Act.

The SAFE Act, passed by the House along party lines last month, would authorize $600 million for the Election Assistance Commission to allocate to states to enhance their security ahead of 2020. The measure also includes language that would ban voting machines from being connected to the internet or being manufactured in foreign countries.

The Duty to Report Act, sponsored by Blumenthal, would require federal campaign officials to notify law enforcement if a campaign is offered assistance by a foreign government.

Both bills were blocked Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans MORE (R-Ky.), who cited the need for “bipartisan” legislation to address election security issues.

Schumer argued it was “a disgrace” that the Senate wasn’t doing anything to counter potential threats from Russia and other countries.

“This is an issue of patriotism, of national security, of protecting the very integrity of American democracy, something so many of our forebearers died for, and what do we hear from the Republican side? Nothing,” Schumer said. “Leader McConnell and the Republican majority refuse to do anything.”

McConnell has steadfastly refused to allow votes on a multitude of election security bills this year, though the Senate has passed related legislation. One measure would make it a federal crime to hack into voting systems, while another would deny visas to those who meddle or are suspected of trying to interfere in U.S. elections.

The House and Senate this month both received election security briefings by senior administration officials on the status of efforts to secure voting systems in the lead-up to 2020.

Democrats also lashed out at Trump for not prioritizing the issue, arguing he is concerned that such legislation would “delegitimize” the results of the 2016 election.

Warner tweeted on Thursday that Trump’s “aides wouldn’t let the Secretary of Homeland Security brief the President on election security because they were afraid it would bruise his ego.” 

The senator’s remarks were in reference to a New York Times story that said former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenDOJ to Supreme Court: Trump decision to end DACA was lawful Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role MORE was told by acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump's latest plan to undermine Social Security Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE to stop briefing Trump on election security measures and to keep it “below his level.”

At least one GOP senator appeared to agree with the need to move forward on election security measures.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Thursday that he believed there was “some bipartisan space” on election security, citing his committee’s approval of two pertinent bills earlier this year.

“Maybe this is where you want to go into the old chamber and see if we can regain that sense of the Senate that’s been lost and find a way forward,” Graham said.

On the House side, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffLawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong Trump: Jews who vote Democrat show 'lack of knowledge or great disloyalty' Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday that he “hoped” Mueller’s testimony would pave the way for action on election security.

“If the former special counsel expresses such deep concern about Russian plans and intentions and our own readiness, or whether it’s become the new normal to act in concert with a foreign adversary, and that’s not enough to spark people out of their lethargy around this building in terms of preparing for the next election, then I’m not sure what will,” Schiff said.