Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing

This week’s much-anticipated hearing with former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE promises to be full of high political drama. But election security — a key focus of the Mueller report — isn’t likely to garner much attention from lawmakers.

Mueller is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees in back-to-back hearings Wednesday to discuss the findings of his 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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The first volume of the report was devoted to Russian efforts to interfere in the elections through social media and hacking operations, with Mueller later emphasizing in rare public remarks that election security is an issue that “deserves the attention of every American.”

“I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our elections,” Mueller said in a public statement to the press in May.

His lengthy report detailed how Russian actors hacked into the computer system of the Democratic National Committee, engineered a social media disinformation campaign that favored President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' MORE and conducted “computer intrusion operations” against those working on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Harris make first public appearance as running mates Trump campaign spox rips GOP congressman over rejection of QAnon conspiracy Biden hits back after Trump's attacks on Harris MORE’s presidential campaign.

In the wake of the report’s release, election security debates ramped up on Capitol Hill, with Republicans and Democrats strongly disagreeing on what steps, if any, Congress should take ahead of the 2020 elections.

The Democratic-led House has passed several election security bills, while the GOP-controlled Senate has mostly avoided voting on them and others, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate Democrats say White House isn't budging in coronavirus relief stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) citing concerns about federalizing elections and claiming agencies already doing enough to address the problem.

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Both chambers were briefed by senior administration officials this month on efforts to secure elections heading into 2020.

Still, members of the House Intelligence Committee, which published its own report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, are not expected to focus many of their questions on the topic when Mueller testifies.

A committee spokesperson declined to comment on whether Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffNewsom says he has already received a number of pitches for Harris's open Senate seat Here's who could fill Kamala Harris's Senate seat if she becomes VP Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling MORE (D-Calif.) planned to question Mueller on election security but noted that Schiff plans to hold an “open election security hearing with relevant public officials following the August recess.”

The House is set to return from its annual monthlong recess on Sept. 9.

A spokesperson for ranking member Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief The Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline MORE (R-Calif.) did not respond to a request for comment, but Nunes last month described the Mueller report as a “hit piece” designed to bolster Democrats’ calls for impeachment.

Some members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees expressed a keen interest in pursuing the issue of election security but indicated it will not be a priority during the hearing.

Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsGOP lawmaker: 'Pretty cool' Harris has a shot at being the 'most powerful person in the world' How Biden decided on Harris Kamala Harris: The conventional (and predictable) pick all along MORE (D-Fla.), a member of both committees, told The Hill recently that she “really wished we had time” to discuss election security, citing “loose ends.” But she added that “we’re going to be focused specifically on his investigation and his report, more about meetings the Trump campaign or the administration had with Russian officials, the president obstructing justice, and the conclusions about not exonerating the president.”

Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondExperts warn mail-in voting misinformation could threaten elections One way we can honor John Lewis' legacy: Amend the 13th Amendment Lawmakers, public bid farewell to John Lewis MORE (D-La.), chairman of the House Homeland Security cybersecurity subcommittee and a member of the Judiciary Committee, told The Hill that he did not plan to question Mueller on the topic as he thought “that part of the report is sufficiently detailed.”

Another Intelligence Committee Democrat, Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyHillicon Valley: Three arrested in Twitter hack | Trump pushes to break up TikTok | House approves 0M for election security House-passed funding package includes 0M for election security upgrades 2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do MORE (Ill.), said a major roadblock to bringing up election security is the five-minute time constraint each member has to ask questions and the multitude of other issues to address.

Quigley, who has been one of the more active House members on election security, added that while it was too early to say what his questions would be, he hoped Mueller would address the portion of the report on Russian hacking and social media interference efforts in 2016.

“The first time, and the only time that Mueller spoke to the American public, eight minutes, people forget that half of it, he was talking about election security,” Quigley told The Hill. “I think the most important thing he can do is to reiterate and expound upon that, what the threat was, why the threat is still there, and why we need a bipartisan response.”

Two Intelligence Committee members — Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks This week: Congress set for bipartisan coronavirus talks as clock ticks Sherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel MORE (D-Texas) and Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupLawmakers urge administration to remove tariffs on European wine and spirits amid coronavirus pandemic GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Sen. Coons says US needs to invest in vaccine manufacturing now; uncertainty looms over states reopening MORE (R-Ohio) — separately told The Hill that while their questions aren’t decided, they hoped Mueller would be able to offer advice on what Congress should do to secure elections.

Castro added that he hoped Mueller would address “whether he believes, based on his investigation, that the United States election system is protected as well as it should be and whether he has seen sufficient efforts between when he started his investigation and now to better secure our U.S. election system.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), a Judiciary Committee member, said she wished the panel “would focus more on the actual interference in our elections by the Russians instead of going after the Trump administration constantly.”

While committee members may have been noncommittal about whether they would ask election security questions, at least one former top official was not.

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyRon Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes Republicans set sights on FBI chief as Russia probe investigations ramp up The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement MORE on Friday detailed the questions he would ask Mueller in an article for Lawfare. Among them was whether Mueller discovered if there were contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign members and if so, whether the Trump campaign reported those contacts to the FBI.

Comey was involved in investigating Russian interference efforts in the 2016 election before being fired by Trump in May 2017.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security advocates see strong ally in Harris Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a co-sponsor of various election security measures, said that even though he won’t have the opportunity to question Mueller, he hopes the former special counsel will use the national spotlight to issue a stark warning to the American public.

“He needs to reinforce the message that he made at his press conference, that the Russians attacked our democracy in 2018. They’ll be back,” Warner said.