Hillicon Valley: McConnell fires back at criticism over election security bills | GOP chair vows to move 'swiftly' on new intel chief | Georgia awards contract for new voting machines

Hillicon Valley: McConnell fires back at criticism over election security bills | GOP chair vows to move 'swiftly' on new intel chief | Georgia awards contract for new voting machines
© Greg Nash

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MCCONNELL FIRES BACK AT CRITICISM OVER ELECTION SECURITY BILLS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills MORE (R-Ky.), under fire for blocking two election security bills, hit back on Monday comparing the attacks against him to "modern-day McCarthyism."

"I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous by a couple of left-wing pundits on the basis of bold-faced lies. I was accused of aiding and abetting the very man I've singled out as an adversary and opposed for nearly 20 years, Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties We have now reached a code red moment in American democracy Jane Harman: NATO must use its brain cells to battle these threats MORE," McConnell said during a fiery speech from the Senate floor.

He added that his critics, specifically pointing out The Washington Post and MSNBC, were using "unhinged smears," adding "welcome to modern-day McCarthyism."

"These pundits are lying, lying when they dismiss the work that has been done. They're lying when they insist I have personally blocked actions which, in fact, I have championed and the Senate has passed. They are lying when they suggest that either party is against defending our democracy."

McConnell sparked a firestorm of criticism last week when he blocked attempts by Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to pass election security legislation by unanimous consent.

More from The Hill's Jordain Carney here.




More on the controversy: That came shortly after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE warned that foreign governments will interfere in the 2020 elections. McConnell's actions have him under fire from Democrats.

"We are not going to let Leader McConnell put the bills passed by the House into his legislative graveyard without a fight. You're going to hear from us on this issue over and over again," Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor last week.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug bill MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called McConnell "Russia's biggest ally" in its meddling efforts, while Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Overnight Health Care: Crunch time for Congress on surprise medical bills | CDC confirms 47 vaping-related deaths | Massachusetts passes flavored tobacco, vaping products ban MORE (D-Ill.), Schumer's No. 2, accused the GOP leader of "abdicating his responsibility to protect American democracy so he can protect a President who unravels it day-by-day."

What's in the bills: One of the bills pushed by Senate Democrats would require the use of paper ballots and boost election funding; the other would mandate that candidates, campaign officials and family members notify the FBI of assistance offers from foreign governments.

Read more here. 


RATCLIFFE IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) said Monday he would work "swiftly" to begin the confirmation process for Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing House Republicans on Judiciary strategize ahead of Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Texas), President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE's choice to be the next director of national intelligence.

While he did not offer an explicit endorsement of Ratcliffe, Burr said he called the Texas Republican on Sunday to "congratulate" him on the pending nomination.

"When the White House submits its official nomination to the Senate Intelligence Committee, we will work to move it swiftly through regular order," Burr said in a statement.

Burr noted that he looks forward to working with outgoing Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE's deputy, Sue Gordon, describing her as "a trusted partner to our Committee."

He also praised Coats, recognizing him for making "significant progress" in addressing foreign election interference during his tenure and sounding the alarm over "growing aggression" from Russia, China and Iran.

"America is better prepared for the threats we face thanks to Dan Coats' leadership of our Intelligence Community," Burr said, praising the former Indiana senator for his "integrity and sound judgment."


Read more here.


RATCLIFFE RECAP: Trump is tapping Ratcliffe to Dan replace Coats, who will step down as his director of national intelligence on Aug. 15.

"I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves," Trump announced Sunday. "Dan Coats, the current Director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly," Trump wrote in a pair of tweets Sunday evening.

His goodbye: In his resignation letter to Trump dated Sunday, Coats said he was "grateful" for the opportunity to lead the U.S. intelligence community and noted progress made on election security, security clearances and other issues. He also wrote that he worked to ensure Trump has "the best, most timely, and unbiased intelligence possible."

"The Intelligence Community is stronger than ever, and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities. As we have previously discussed, I believe it is time for me to move on to the next chapter in my life," Coats wrote.

Coats has held the role of director of national intelligence for more than two years, shepherding the intelligence community through a crucial period in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His tenure has at times been punctuated by controversy, as his public statements have put him at odds with the president.


Ratcliffe's entrance: In a statement late Sunday, Ratcliffe described himself as "deeply grateful" for Trump's nomination to lead the intelligence community.

"I look forward to my new role with energy and focus," Ratcliffe said. "It has been the privilege of my lifetime to be the voice for the people of the Fourth District of Texas over the past five years. I will take their wisdom and common sense with me in my new role, and I will always remember with pride my service to them, and all that we have accomplished together."

Read more on the move here.


NEW MACHINES IN GEORGIA: Georgia awarded a $150 million contract to voting equipment manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems to implement a "verified paper ballot system" in the state prior to the March 2020 presidential primaries, the Georgia Secretary of State's office announced on Monday.

This will involve replacing current voting machines in Georgia with machines from Dominion that print a paper ballot after the voter has made their choices to further secure the vote against outside interference. 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement that "election security is my top priority," adding that "we look forward to working with national and local election security experts to institute best practices and to continue to safeguard all aspects of physical and cyber-security in an ever-changing threat environment."


Raffensperger's office noted in a statement that the machines will be in place by March 24, 2020, the date of Georgia's Presidential Preference Primary. The Secretary of State's office has already partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and private cyber companies to improve election security in the state, with several Georgia counties working with DHS to provide security assessments of election offices. 

The new machines are being put in place after a new law in April that requires elections in Georgia to "be conducted with the use of scanning ballots marked by electronic ballot markers and tabulated by using ballot scanners for voting at the polls and for absentee ballots cast in person." The electronic ballots markers are required to "produce paper ballots."

Read more here.


BY THE NUMBERS: Public opinion toward technology companies has soured in recent years amid growing concerns about privacy and misinformation, according to a new poll.

The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of adults who said that they believe technology companies are having a positive impact on the U.S. dropped from 71 percent in 2015 to 50 percent today.

Respondents who say that tech companies have had a negative impact, meanwhile, has risen to 33 percent from 17 percent four years ago.

Another 17 percent said either that tech companies have had no impact on the country, a mixed impact or offered no opinion, compared to 11 percent in 2015.

Silicon Valley's decline in popularity comes as policymakers in Washington have taken a much more aggressive role in policing the industry. The largest internet platforms -- Facebook, Google and Amazon -- are all facing antitrust probes from Capitol Hill and the Department of Justice.

And Republicans have accused social media companies, with little evidence, of censoring conservative viewpoints online.

Bipartisan trouble: The new Pew poll found tech companies have lost their standing among both self-identified Republicans and Democrats at similar rates. The share of Republicans who said they believe tech companies have had a positive impact on the country dropped from 72 percent to 44 percent in the last four years. For Democrats, that view declined from 74 percent to 54 percent.

Pew surveyed 752 respondents about their views on tech companies July 10–15 for its latest poll.

Read more on the poll here.



ANYTHING BUT THE WINE: French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Saturday urged President Trump to refrain from slapping tariffs on his country's wine exports in response to a new French tax law targeting technology giants such as Amazon and Google.

"It's in our interest to have a fair digital tax," Le Maire said at a press conference, according to Reuters. "Please do not mix the two issues. The key question now is how we can we get consensus on fair taxation of digital activities."

Le Maire was responding to a Friday threat from the White House to tax French wine over the new law, which Trump described as foolish and said places an unjust burden on U.S. tech companies. 

The French tax, which would affect several U.S.-based tech giants such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, imposes a 3 percent tax on the annual revenues of technology companies that make at least 750 million euros a year and provide services to users in the country.

Le Maire maintained that France would lift its digital tax if a deal could be reached at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on a universal tax. Thirty-six countries, mostly from Europe, are part of the body.

Read more on the tax fight here.


ASSESSMENT FAULTED FACEBOOK OVER USER PRIVACY: An independent assessment of Facebook between 2017 and February of this year found the company did not effectively implement privacy safeguards that were required under an agreement with federal regulators, according to documents obtained by The Hill on Friday.

Outside auditing firm PwC this year found Facebook was not following the government's orders on privacy, which were laid out in a 2012 agreement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the company.

The FTC last year settled with Facebook over the same allegation, charging that Facebook had violated its obligations under the order by failing to establish a "reasonable" privacy program and hitting the company with a $5 billion fine.

According to the report, counter to the 2012 order's mandates, Facebook did not properly authorize the developers building products on its platform and had not implemented an "appropriate" procedure to deal with privacy-related incidents, among other conclusions.

"Management's control was not appropriately designed and implemented to address intake, detection, handling, response, remediation, and reporting (as applicable) for all privacy incidents (e.g., misuse of user data by service providers or other third party misuse)," the PwC report reads.

PwC, also known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, noted it could not complete the investigation, but if it had, it would have concluded "that Facebook's privacy controls were not operating with sufficient effectiveness to provide reasonable assurance to protect the privacy of covered information."

The firm's investigation, which was submitted to Facebook on June 6, was happening at the same time the FTC was looking into whether the company had violated the 2012 consent agreement.

The latest report comes after privacy groups lambasted PwC for its 2017 report, which concluded that Facebook's privacy controls were effective and provided "reasonable assurance" the company was protecting user privacy -- even though, during that time, right-wing political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained a massive trove of user data that it used to profile American voters.

Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in an email to The Hill noted that it seemed PwC in this year's report backed "off its earlier representations" that "everything is going great" at Facebook.

Read more on the report here. 


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Why self-regulation of social media could work.





Amazon told police it has partnered with 200 law enforcement agencies. (Motherboard) 

Facebook connected her to a tattooed soldier in Iraq. Or so she thought. (The New York Times)

YouTube faces creator backlash. (Axios)

Grand Theft Auto maker has paid no UK corporation tax in 10 years – report. (The Guardian)