Hillicon Valley: Democrats seize on whistleblower complaint to push for election security | Google taps GOP Senate aide to lead lobbying | Warren calls for congressional tech office

Hillicon Valley: Democrats seize on whistleblower complaint to push for election security | Google taps GOP Senate aide to lead lobbying | Warren calls for congressional tech office
© Greg Nash

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YOU'VE BEEN WARNED: Democrats renewed their push for election security legislation after a stark warning from acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and the release of a whistleblower complaint about President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE's call with Ukraine's leader.

Maguire on Thursday warned that the "greatest challenge" the U.S. is facing is "maintaining the integrity of our election system" and said "there are foreign powers that are trying to get us to question the validity of whether or not our elections are valid."

The intelligence official made the comment during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday about a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump tried to persuade Ukraine to mount a corruption investigation against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Democrat representing Pennsylvania district Trump carried plans to vote to impeach  MORE, the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Democrats also highlighted a section in the whistleblower complaint that Trump's actions could pose "risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government's efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections."

The two events have bolstered the need for election security legislation, these Democrats argued, not long after former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE's report highlighted Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections.

Democrats sound the alarm: "The President again, just [as] he did in 2016, sought out assistance from a foreign power to help in his reelection," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonOvernight Defense: Watchdog to audit company's border wall contract | Pentagon to step up vetting of foreign students after Pensacola | Report finds former defense official sexually harassed staffers Senate bill would give DHS cyber agency subpoena powers Pentagon watchdog to audit North Dakota company's border wall contract MORE (D-Miss.) said in a statement on Thursday. "This is election interference, plain and simple. The President has continually and persistently undermined the integrity of our elections and our democracy."

"I agree with the Acting DNI [director of national intelligence] – the top threat to our national security is the security of our elections," he added. "It is high time for Republicans in Congress to finally realize this and join us in ensuring our elections are wholly and properly secured. We need a comprehensive, whole-of-government effort."

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Democrats also used the two events to sharpen their attacks against the president. 

"When a foreign country tries to interfere, that to me is clearly an act against the best interests of the United States, and we certainly do not expect the president to be complicit in that effort," Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina MORE (Ill.), the second highest-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters on Thursday.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report DOJ inspector general refutes Trump claim that Obama tapped his wires Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill MORE (D-Del.), one of the sponsors behind the amendment that added $250 million in election security funds, told The Hill on Thursday that he "would hope" that Maguire's comments spur more bipartisan action on election security.

"We should be concerned not just about Russia, but about other state and nonstate actors, because the weakness of the response of our government overall to this threat has been unfortunately broadly covered in the press," Coons said. "It is long past time for us to do more to secure our elections. I hope that Acting DNI Maguire's testimony today will spur further action, but it is very late in the game."

Report bolsters their case: Election security concerns were further underlined by the release on Thursday of the annual report that arose from DEFCON Voting Village, a major hacking conference that allows for hackers to test voting equipment for vulnerabilities.

The white-hat hackers tested various voting machines in use throughout the nation and found cyber vulnerabilities that would allow foreign actors or other individuals to interfere in election results.

Read more on the election security push here.

 

 

ROUND AND ROUND: Google has tapped Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing MORE's (R-Ohio) top aide to lead its U.S. lobbying efforts as the company faces mounting investigations into its market power.

Mark Isakowitz, who has served as Portman's chief of staff for the past five years, will be Google's vice president in charge of government affairs and public policy.

"Mark brings more than 30 years of experience in Washington, serious policy knowledge, and an impressive record of bridging divides and achieving results," Karan Bhatia, who leads Google's global government affairs office, said in a statement Friday. "He will help Google work with lawmakers to support policies that encourage growth and responsible innovation."

Isakowitz will replace former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), who announced last year that she would be stepping down from the top lobbying role in D.C.

Last year, Portman's office was the driving force behind the sex trafficking bill sometimes referred to as FOSTA-SESTA that panicked many in Silicon Valley. The measure, which was passed and signed into law in 2018, carves out exceptions to internet platforms' legal liability protections over content posted by their users.

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Read more here.

 

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WARREN PUSHES FOR TECH OFFICE: Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSaagar Enjeti says Buttigieg's release of McKinsey client list shows he 'caved to public pressure' On The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Bill Weld: As many as six GOP senators privately support convicting Trump MORE (D-Mass.) on Friday proposed reinstating a congressional office dedicated to improving tech expertise in order to beat back the growing power of technology companies' lobbying efforts.

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In a plan posted to her website, Warren -- one of the top Democratic presidential contenders -- said she wants to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which was set up in the 1970s and dissolved in 1995 under former House Speaker Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.). 

Congress stood up the OTA to deliver technology expertise to staffers and lawmakers, who often struggle to keep abreast with the latest developments in an advanced and complex industry. 

Since the OTA was defunded, the country's top tech companies, including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, have invested millions in lobbying efforts, filling the knowledge gap, Warren said, with the message, "Trust us because we understand it and you don't."

"Members of Congress should have the resources they need to make decisions without relying on corporate lobbyists," Warren said.

There's been a recent spike in interest around the OTA, with lawmakers in the House and Senate proposing legislation that would reinstate the tech office to help lawmakers navigate the pressing regulatory concerns around Big Tech. 

A draft fiscal 2020 legislative branch funding bill would dedicate $6 million in initial funding to the OTA, though Senate appropriators stripped that funding on Thursday.

Warren is arguing the OTA could help lawmakers avoid another public embarrassment like last year's hearings with Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Facebook tells Trump administration it will not create messaging 'backdoor' for law enforcement LGBTQ groups accuse Facebook ads of spreading misinformation about HIV drugs MORE, when multiple lawmakers drew criticism for questions that revealed a lack of understanding around how social media platforms work.  

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"When Congress decides whether it should break up big tech companies, our representatives shouldn't have to rely on Google's policy team to understand the effects of technology consolidation," she wrote.

Her plan would also increase salaries for congressional staffers and funding for multiple congressional support agencies. 

Read more here.

 

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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Pope urges Silicon Valley to avoid slide toward new "barbarism." (Reuters) 

Troubled IPOs raise questions for future deals. (The Information)  

Study proves the FCC's core justification for killing net neutrality was false. (Motherboard) 

Facebook meets with civil rights groups. (Axios)