1181 Days After Russia’s
“Sweeping and Systematic” Assault On American Elections, Will Leader McConnell Finally Allow A Bipartisan Senate Briefing on Election Security?

1181 days after Russia began its “sweeping and systematic” assault on American elections by sending spearphishing emails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has relegated all election security measures to his “legislative graveyard,” reportedly may have agreed  to allow an all-Senate elections security briefing by intelligence officials. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week said he was “assured” by Leader McConnell that there will be a bipartisan briefing soon.

Beyond the briefings, McConnell must allow the Senate to take up bipartisan bills that aim to protect American democracy from foreign interference. A new Law Works poll shows that 84% of voters support Congress passing “Duty to Report” legislation that would require candidates for federal office and their campaigns to report any contacts with foreign governments or foreign entities to the FBI, as well as any offers of materials that may have resulted from theft or hacking.

McConnell And The White House Have Blocked Election Security Measures From The Senate Floor

“The Republican-Controlled Senate Could Call Up A Debate On Election Security.” According to Sen. Chris Murphy: “The idea that we’re doing nothing is I think one complaint shared by Republicans and Democrats. You know, as much as McConnell or President Trump can complain about the details of the legislation they might object to coming out of the House of Representatives, what’s so offensive to me and a handful of other Republicans is they’re not — we`re not even trying to come up with alternatives in the Senate… The Republican-controlled Senate could call up a debate on election security… We could come to our own conclusion in the Senate and then we could try to reconcile that with the version come out of the House of Representatives but what is really difficult to swallow for those of us that work so hard to get to the United States Senate is that we`re not even trying to do our job any longer. We come in and cast a few votes on nominations and then go home on Thursdays.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2019]

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt: “I Don’t See The Likelihood That [Election Security] Bills Would Get To The Floor.” According to the Atlantic, Sen. Dick Durbin asked “whether the Rules Committee would move any election-security bills.” The Atlantic Reports Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt said: “At this point I don’t see any likelihood that those bills would get to the floor if we mark them up… I think the majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion.” [Atlantic, 5/30/2019]

A Former Homeland Security Official Faults McConnell For Failing To Enhance Cybersecurity.  According to the Guardian: “Paul Rosenzweig, a former top DHS official and a cyber expert with the nonpartisan R Street Institute, said efforts to enhance cybersecurity before the 2020 elections are ‘mired in partisanship because of a Republican misperception that efforts to buttress election security are challenges to the legitimacy of Trump’s elections’, faulting especially Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.” [The Guardian, 5/27/2019]

McConnell Stymied Bipartisan Elections Bills. According to the Guardian: “a bipartisan Secure Elections Act which would have given more authority to DHS and had backing from several Republican senators… was stymied by McConnell.” The Guardian reports that Mike Carpenter, a former NSC official with Russia expertise, said: “It’s astounding that the Republican-controlled Senate is stonewalling bills that would decrease our vulnerability to foreign election interference… The question is, why won’t Mitch McConnell move any of these bills to the floor for a vote? We’re as vulnerable in the coming election cycle as we’ve ever been yet no action is being taken.” [The Guardian, 5/27/2019]

Politico Headline: “Election Security Push Stumbles Amid White House Resistance.”[Politico, 5/1/19]

  • Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar Pushed Bipartisan Election Security Bill. According to Politico: “Senate Democrats and Republicans can agree on perhaps just one thing about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. But bipartisan legislation to address foreign intrusions is all but dead amid a distinct lack of enthusiasm from Senate GOP leadership and the Trump White House… Klobuchar and Lankford’s bill would establish an Election Assistance Commission grant program and codify existing Department of Homeland Security election security roles. It would also emphasize sharing threat information with election officials and require back up paper ballots and audits.” [Politico, 5/1/19]

McClatchy: “McConnell Has Made It Clear That He’s Unlikely To Allow The Senate To Vote On Any Election-Related Legislation For The Foreseeable Future.” [McClatchy, 4/10/19]

McConnell Prevented Public Disclosure About Interference During 2016

Mitch McConnell “Stood In The Way” When The Obama Administration Wanted To Call Out Russians. According to CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Josh Campbell, “If you go back and look in 2016, the U.S. government, the Obama administration, the intelligence services were wanting to call out the Russians at the time and it was actually to again, some good reporting that it was learned that it was Mitch McConnell who stood in the way who said that no I’m not going to allow the U.S. government to hold hearings here, to talk about the Russians and folks that you know imagine that he was essentially playing politics again trying to run interference for perhaps a Trump campaign.” CNN anchor John Vause also said: “the Senate Leader, the Republican Mitch McConnell is refusing to allow a vote on an election security bill.” [CNN, 5/30/2019]

McConnell Resisted And Questioned Intelligence Informing Obama’s Effort To Have Bipartisan Agreement On Confronting Russia. According to the Washington Post: “Before departing for an August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama instructed aides to pursue ways to deter Moscow and proceed along three main paths: Get a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vulnerabilities in state-run election systems; and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal help… In early September, Johnson, Comey, and [Homeland security adviser Lisa] Monaco arrived on Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs for a meeting with 12 key members of Congress, including the leadership of both parties. The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble. ‘The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’’ recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims.” [Washington Post, 6/23/17]

McConnell Misled The Public About The Administration’s Efforts To Address Election Security.

McConnell: “The Administration Increased Information Sharing From The Department Of Homeland Security In Cooperation With The States.McConnell said in a floor speech:  “Thanks to this administration’s leadership, all 50 states and more than 1,400 local election jurisdictions focused on election security like never before… Thanks to efforts across the federal government in 2018, we were ready.”

  • May 2018: Trump Eliminated Top Cyber Policy Position Who “Worked With Agencies To Develop A Unified Strategy For Issues Like Election Security,” Despite Opposition From “Cyber Policy Experts, Lawmakers And Former Officials.”According to Politico: “The Trump administration has eliminated the White House’s top cyber policy role, jettisoning a key position created during the Obama presidency to harmonize the government’s overall approach to cybersecurity policy and digital warfare… Rob Joyce, Trump’s first coordinator, who came from the NSA, left the White House on Friday and will return to Fort Meade. Cyber policy experts, lawmakers and former officials had urged Trump to replace Joyce and not to abolish the position… The cyber coordinator led a team of directors and senior directors who worked with agencies to develop a unified strategy for issues like election security and digital deterrence. The coordinator also represented the administration in meetings with foreign partners and at conferences and other public events.” [Politico, 5/15/18]

  • Politico: Only Half Of Election Assistance Commission Has Security Clearance Thanks To “Massive” Federal Government Backlog. According to Politico: “Only half the members of a federal commission advising states on election threats have security clearances, raising questions about whether it can effectively help local and state officials defend against adversaries such as Russian hackers… The delay in issuing security clearances for commission members is part of a massive backlog of application approvals throughout the entire federal government. But it’s a particularly acute problem for the EAC, one of the key agencies offering guidance to state and local officials about how to protect themselves from security risks.” [Politico, 4/5/19]

  • Security Experts Assert That States Are “Still Lacking” In Cyber Security Protections. According to the Hill, though “40 states have invested more than $75 million in improving election security since the 2016 elections…”  experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies claim that “the average grade for state election cybersecurity is a C-, and… states with toss-up Senate elections [in 2018] average an F for their security measures.” The Hill cites that “a panel of experts surveyed by CSIS agreed that Russia poses the greatest cyber threat to U.S. elections, after the country was determined to have successfully interfered in the 2016 election.” [The Hill, 10/30/2018]

The Administration Has Not Adequately Addressed Election Security

NYT Headline: In Push for 2020 Election Security, Top Official Was Warned: Don’t Tell Trump. [New York Times, 4/24/19]

  • DHS Secretary Nielsen Was Told By White House Chief Of Staff Not To Bring Up Election Security, That It “Wasn’t A Great Subject.” According to the New York Times: “In the months before Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign, she tried to focus the White House on one of her highest priorities as homeland security secretary: preparing for new and different Russian forms of interference in the 2020 election. President Trump’s chief of staff told her not to bring it up in front of the president… in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it ‘wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.’” [New York Times, 4/24/19]

  • Secretary Nielsen “Eventually Gave Up On Her Effort To Organize A White House Meeting Of Cabinet Secretaries To Coordinate A Strategy To Protect Next Year’s Elections.” According to the New York Times: “Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections. As a result, the issue did not gain the urgency or widespread attention that a president can command. And it meant that many Americans remain unaware of the latest versions of Russian interference.” [New York Times,4/24/19]