Op­po­si­tion bogs down election se­cu­rity bills

USA TODAY US 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 the Jus­tice Depart­ment to de­velop a 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, at a com­mit­tee hear­ing Tues­day. “I wish you’d look at it and con­sider supporting it.”

Law­mak­ers ap­pealed to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for help in leg­is­la­tion to guard against for­eign meddling.

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 has charged two former Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials with vi­o­lat­ing the law as part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian meddling in the 2016 election.

De­spite Mueller’s ac­tions, the law has rarely been used to pros­e­cute lob­by­ists, and Grass­ley and oth­ers pushed to step up its en­force­ment.

Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, the se­nior Demo­crat on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, in­tro­duced a sep­a­rate bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. That bill 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, R-La., in Jan­uary that is iden­ti­cal to Grass­ley’s, but the se­na­tor’s bill stalled in the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. The Fe­in­stein-Cornyn bill — the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Amend­ments Act — also awaits ac­tion there.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said her sep­a­rate, bi­par­ti­san bill aimed at pro­tect­ing state election sys­tems from cy­ber­at­tacks 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.

The sen­a­tors are try­ing to at­tach the bill to a sweep­ing de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill the Sen­ate is ex­pected to pass this week, but Klobuchar said their amend­ment faces GOP op­po­si­tion.

Rus­sian hack­ers tried to breach the election sys­tems of 21 states in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. The Russians suc­ceeded in pen­e­trat­ing Illi­nois’ voter reg­is­tra­tion data­base. There is no ev­i­dence that any votes were changed.

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA/GETTY IM­AGES

Sens. Chuck Grass­ley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., in­tro­duced sep­a­rate bills aimed at pre­vent­ing for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in U.S. elec­tions.

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