Elec­tion se­cu­rity bills bogged down

Grass­ley asks for Jus­tice Dept. help af­ter op­po­si­tion to mea­sures emerges

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Erin Kelly

WASH­ING­TON – Bi­par­ti­san bills aimed at pro­tect­ing U.S. elec­tions from for­eign med­dling face un­ex­pected op­po­si­tion, prompt­ing mem­bers of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee to ap­peal to Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials for help Tues­day.

Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, com­plained that some Amer­i­can busi­nesses op­pose his bill, which would strengthen en­force­ment of a law re­quir­ing lob­by­ists for for­eign gov­ern­ments to reg­is­ter with the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

Grass­ley’s bill, the Dis­clos­ing For­eign In­flu­ence Act, would re­quire Jus­tice to de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to im­prove en­force­ment of the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act. Com­pa­nies don’t want to have to reg­is­ter as for­eign agents, and they op­pose a pro­vi­sion that would re­quire in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses with U.S. sub­sidiaries to reg­is­ter.

“We’re run­ning into op­po­si­tion from some busi­ness groups that I don’t think have a le­git­i­mate rea­son to op­pose it,” Grass­ley told Adam Hickey, a deputy as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral in the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s na­tional se­cu­rity divi­sion, dur­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing Tues­day. “I wish you’d look at it and con­sider sup­port­ing it.”

The For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act — passed by Congress in 1938 to ex­pose Nazi agents be­fore World War II — has re­ceived in­creased at­ten­tion in the past year.

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller charged two former Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials with vi­o­lat­ing the law as part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Former Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort was charged with — among other things — fail­ing to prop­erly dis­close his work for the Krem­lin­backed gov­ern­ment in Ukraine. Richard Gates, who served as the cam­paign’s deputy chair­man, was ini­tially charged with vi­o­lat­ing the same law, but that charge was dropped when Gates pleaded guilty to two sep­a­rate crimes.

But the law has rarely been used to pros­e­cute lob­by­ists, and Grass­ley and oth­ers pushed to step up its en­force­ment.

Sens. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, who serve on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, in­tro­duced a sep­a­rate bill that would re­quire the at­tor­ney gen­eral to cre­ate a sec­tion within the Jus­tice Depart­ment to en­force laws against sus­pected op­er­a­tives or agents of for­eign gov­ern­ments.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved a bill by Rep. Mike John­son, RLa., in Jan­uary that is iden­ti­cal to Grass­ley’s, but the se­na­tor’s bill stalled in the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. The Fe­in­stein-Cornyn bill also awaits ac­tion there.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said her sep­a­rate bill aimed at pro­tect­ing state elec­tion sys­tems from cy­ber­at­tacks by the Rus­sians or other for­eign gov­ern­ments is blocked by Se­nate Repub­li­cans de­spite the fact that it is cospon­sored by Sen. James Lank­ford, ROkla.

The Se­cure Elec­tions Act would stream­line cy­ber­se­cu­rity in­for­ma­tion shar­ing be­tween fed­eral in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and state elec­tion of­fi­cials and pro­vide se­cu­rity clear­ances to state of­fi­cials, so they could get clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion about cy­berthreats.

Matthew Master­son, se­nior ad­viser for the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s cy­ber­se­cu­rity unit, said he would work with Klobuchar and Lank­ford to pass their bill, which was amended to ad­dress some con­cerns by the states.

“I don’t know why it’s be­ing held up,” said Master­son, the former chair­man of the Elec­tion As­sis­tance Com­mis­sion, which works with states to im­prove their elec­tion se­cu­rity.

Hickey said he could not en­dorse any spe­cific bills but promised to work with se­na­tors on their leg­is­la­tion.

“We’re run­ning into op­po­si­tion from some busi­ness groups that I don’t think have a le­git­i­mate rea­son to op­pose it.” Sen. Chuck Grass­ley Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man

Sens. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., in­tro­duced sep­a­rate bills aimed at pre­vent­ing for­eign med­dling in U.S. elec­tions. CHIP SOMODEVILLA/ GETTY IM­AGES

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