Election security bills bogged down
Grassley asks for Justice Dept. help after opposition to measures emerges
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