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Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing

This week’s much-anticipated hearing with former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE and conducted “computer intrusion operations” against those working on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination Jennifer Palmieri: 'Ever since I was aware of politics, I wanted to be in politics' Cruz: Wife 'pretty pissed' about leaked Cancun texts 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 McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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 SchiffBiden administration open to restarting nuclear talks with Iran Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward House Democrats renew push for checks on presidential pardons 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 NunesNunes lawsuit against CNN thrown out Sunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variants spread in US; Redditors shake Wall Street with Gamestop stock GOP group launches billboard campaign urging Cruz, Hawley to resign 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 DemingsHouse Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism Demings on possible Senate, Florida governor run: 'I'm keeping that door open' Lawmakers remember actress Cicely Tyson 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 RichmondBottom line Biden pledges action on guns amid resistance Congressional Black Caucus to push aggressive agenda 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 QuigleyOn The Money: Biden signals he'll move forward on COVID-19 relief without GOP | Economy adds 49K jobs in January | Minimum wage push sparks Democratic divisions House bill introduced to give gyms B in relief Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds 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 CastroState Department establishes chief officer in charge of diversity Texas governor faces criticism over handling of winter storm fallout DC bureau chief for The Intercept: Impeachment managers became 'like the dog who caught the car' when permitted to call witnesses MORE (D-Texas) and Brad WenstrupBrad Robert WenstrupFormer Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel jumps into Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? Jim Jordan says he won't run for Senate in 2022 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 ComeyJohn Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Trump DOJ officials sought to block search of Giuliani records: report Tina Fey, Amy Poehler to host Golden Globes from separate coasts amid pandemic 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 WarnerBiden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Biden CIA pick pledges to confront China if confirmed, speak 'truth to power' Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack 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.