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 TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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 RatcliffeHillicon 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 Lawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' MORE (R-Texas), tapped by the president to succeed outgoing DNI Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall 11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move 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 MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony 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 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, 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 PetersFBI Agents Association calls on Congress to make 'domestic terrorism' a federal crime Senators renew request for domestic threats documents from FBI, DOJ after shootings Overnight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador 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 KlobucharKlobuchar knocks Trump: 'This negotiating by tweet hasn't been working' Sunday shows preview: Trump ratchets up trade war with China Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates 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 SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 WydenPrediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google 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 BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick 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.”