Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing

This week’s much-anticipated hearing with former special counsel 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 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 TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE and conducted “computer intrusion operations” against those working on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' 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 McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence 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 SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong 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 NunesThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America 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 DemingsTrump takes post-Mueller victory lap Trump attorney: 'Case is closed' after Mueller testimony Mueller agrees lies by Trump officials impeded his investigation 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 RichmondHouse Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations 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 QuigleyLawmakers point to entitlements when asked about deficits Mueller Day falls flat Mueller on Trump's WikiLeaks embrace: 'Problematic is an understatement' 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 CastroThe exhaustion of Democrats' anti-Trump delusions Juan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts Texas Democrats tap Joaquin Castro to deliver key address MORE (D-Texas) and Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupOvernight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions Live coverage: Mueller testifies before Congress Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing 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 ComeyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 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 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 (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.