Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing

This week’s much-anticipated hearing with former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE and conducted “computer intrusion operations” against those working on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Women's March endorses Nina Turner in first-ever electoral endorsement 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 McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 SchiffOfficers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work 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: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Tucker Carlson claims NSA leaked private emails to journalists 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 DemingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Surging COVID-19 infections loom over US, Olympics Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Cuba, Haiti pose major challenges for Florida Democrats 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 RichmondBiden walks fine line with Fox News Critical race theory becomes focus of midterms Democrats look to flip script on GOP 'defund the police' attacks 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 QuigleyGyms, hotels, bus companies make last-ditch plea for aid Carole Baskin: People 'will be outraged' by conditions exotic animals face House panel includes 0 million election security grant in proposed appropriations bill 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 can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals House Democrats reintroduce bill addressing diversity at State Department Julian Castro joins NBC and MSNBC as political analyst MORE (D-Texas) and Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupHouse approves select panel to probe Jan. 6 attack Overnight Defense: Biden, Putin agree to launch arms control talks at summit | 2002 war authorization repeal will get Senate vote | GOP rep warns Biden 'blood with be on his hands' without Afghan interpreter evacuation GOP rep: If Biden doesn't evacuate Afghan interpreters, 'blood will be on his hands' 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 ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom 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 WarnerDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks On The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden 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.