Democrats raise questions about how Ratcliffe would approach election security

Democrats raise questions about how Ratcliffe would approach election security
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are raising concerns about how President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE’s pick to be the next director of national intelligence (DNI) plans to safeguard U.S. elections from foreign interference.

Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeGOP searches for impeachment boogeyman Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Hillicon Valley: Senate passes bill to boost cyber help for agencies, businesses | Watchdog warns Energy Department failing to protect grid | FTC sues Match for allegedly conning users MORE (R-Texas), tapped by the president to succeed outgoing DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats281 lobbyists have worked in Trump administration: report Former intelligence chief Coats rejoins law firm Remembering leaders who put country above party MORE, served in a key cybersecurity position during the previous Congress, but he gained notoriety more recently for questioning former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE’s conclusions on aspects of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections.

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“At a time when every leader of our intelligence community has indicated that Russia is a threat and that they continue to be so, there has never been a time more critical that we maintain the independence of our intelligence community,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. 

“I don’t know the man, but it seems from his testimony before the Mueller hearing, he had very different views than most intelligence professionals,” Warner added. 

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges Poll shows Sen. Gary Peters with slim lead over GOP rival in Michigan From foster care to forever home MORE (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said national security is his top priority “and securing our elections is an essential part of that effort.” 

“I have a lot of concerns and questions about Congressman Ratcliffe’s record, experience and qualifications,” he added.

While Coats made election security a priority as DNI, an issue he touched on in his resignation letter, Ratcliffe’s focus on this issue, if confirmed, is unclear.

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Ratcliffe previously served as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee during the last Congress. In that position, he presided over hearings on topics like the cybersecurity mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the strength of the cyber workforce and the security of federal networks.

He has also introduced multiple cybersecurity bills this Congress, including ones that would improve the cybersecurity of internet-connected devices, bolster cybersecurity at DHS and combat state-sponsored cyber activities against the U.S.

One measure sponsored by Ratcliffe would prohibit tampering with voting systems under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The bill has a Senate companion that was passed earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Ratcliffe did not respond to request for comment on this story, but Ratcliffe tweeted following Trump’s announcement that he was “incredibly thankful for this great honor.”

“I am deeply grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to lead our Nation’s intelligence community and work on behalf of all the public servants who are tirelessly devoted to defending the security and safety of the United States,” Ratcliffe wrote. 

If confirmed, Ratcliffe will take over for a former GOP senator who, as DNI chief, championed the need to secure U.S. elections against foreign interference.

Coats testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January that “our adversaries and strategic competitors probably already are looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.”

Earlier this month, Coats established an election security adviser position for the intelligence community, with Shelby Pierson tapped to fill a role that is meant to oversee threats to election security in the run-up to the 2020 elections. 

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden struggles to reverse fall Krystal Ball rips media for going 'all-in' on Buttigieg's debate performance The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges MORE (D-Minn.), a key Democrat on election security and a presidential candidate, tweeted on Monday that she “will miss Dan Coats’ steady hand. A voice of reason who was willing to be honest about Russian cyberattacks sadly leaving.” 

Other Senate Democrats were broadly critical of Coats’s likely successor.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that Ratcliffe was nominated due to “blind loyalty” to Trump, and that “if Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data MORE (D-Ore.), one of the key lawmakers pushing for election security legislation, said in a statement that “confirming this individual would amount to an endorsement of this administration's drive to politicize our intelligence agencies. This is a dangerous time, and America needs the most qualified and objective individuals possible to lead our intelligence agencies."

Republicans were more supportive of Ratcliffe.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrEx-CIA agent: Whistleblower's complaint 'should be considered on its merits' Senate Intel chair: Whistleblower hasn't agreed to testify before panel Juan Williams: Trump, the conspiracy theory president MORE (R-N.C.), whose committee will examine Ratcliffe’s nomination later this year, told The Hill on Tuesday that if Ratcliffe sticks to current efforts by the Intelligence Community to secure elections, “I would be tickled to death.”