Trump spurs elec­tion se­cu­rity push

Dems cite ur­gency af­ter his com­ments about for­eign help

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mas­caro

WASH­ING­TON — Alarmed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept for­eign dirt on a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent, House Democrats are ac­cel­er­at­ing their ef­forts to strengthen elec­tion se­cu­rity ahead of the 2020 cam­paign.

Law­mak­ers had been com­pil­ing a fresh pack­age of bills in the af­ter­math of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s find­ings in the Trump-Rus­sia probe. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are now push­ing ahead with votes be­cause it’s part of “what the Amer­i­can peo­ple elected us to do.”

It re­mains to be seen if pas­sage of bills through the House will break the stale­mate in Congress over what to do about elec­tion se­cu­rity. While Rus­sia in­ter­fered in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion more than two years ago, law­mak­ers have yet to act on leg­is­la­tion.

Democrats sped up their ef­forts af­ter Trump sug­gested last week in an in­ter

view with ABC News that he was open to ac­cept­ing a for­eign power’s help in his

2020 cam­paign. He ap­peared to walk those com­ments back days later, telling Fox News that “of course” he would go to the FBI or the at­tor­ney gen­eral if a for­eign power of­fered him dirt about an op­po­nent.

Still, the con­tro­versy gave fresh en­ergy to an is­sue Democrats have pri­or­i­tized since they took the House ma­jor­ity in Jan­uary. Even though the na­tion’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies said from early 2017 that it was clear Rus­sia tried to in­flu­ence the

2016 elec­tion in fa­vor of Trump, Re­pub­li­cans who led both cham­bers did not move com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress the is­sue. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell has de­clined to hold a vote on a Se­nate elec­tion se­cu­rity bill that has bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

The House bills seek to se­cure state elec­tion sys­tems, put stricter lim­its on for­eign elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and pro­vide more over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch, ac­cord­ing to aides fa­mil­iar with the leg­is­la­tion. The House could vote as soon as this week on the first bill in the pack­age, a series of mea­sures to im­prove state elec­tion sys­tems with pa­per bal­lots, au­dits and fund­ing of grants to states.

Rep. John Sar­banes, DMd., among those lead­ing the ef­fort, said Trump’s at­ti­tude to­ward for­eign in­ter­fer­ence was “breath­tak­ing” and, he be­lieves, the pres­i­dent is tak­ing the coun­try in the “op­po­site di­rec­tion of where the pub­lic wants to go, which is to feel more con­fi­dent, not less con­fi­dent” in the vote.

“Peo­ple should be con­cerned that we’re go­ing to

The House bills seek to se­cure state elec­tion sys­tems, put stricter lim­its on for­eign elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and pro­vide more over­sight of the ex­ec­u­tive branch, ac­cord­ing to aides fa­mil­iar with the leg­is­la­tion.

see another round of at­tempts to at­tack our democ­racy of the kind we saw in ’16,” Sar­banes said in an in­ter­view. He said Mueller’s re­port, which ex­ten­sively de­tailed the Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, flashed a “neon sign” that Rus­sia was “com­ing again.”

Congress has strug­gled to im­prove elec­tion se­cu­rity in the af­ter­math of the 2016 elec­tion, tan­gled by par­ti­san fight­ing and the in­tri­ca­cies of state-run elec­tion sys­tems. The bi­par­ti­san Se­nate ef­fort ahead of the 2018 midterm elec­tion was blocked by re­sis­tance from GOP lead­er­ship, tak­ing cues from a White House neu­tral to the ef­fort. At the start of the new Congress this year, House Democrats passed a sweep­ing pack­age of elec­tion and ethics re­forms, but Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans re­jected much of the pack­age as over­reach.

Vir­ginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, tried to pass a sep­a­rate bill on the Se­nate floor last week that would re­quire cam­paigns to re­port any con­tacts from for­eign na­tion­als in­tend­ing to in­ter­fere in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But Re­pub­li­can Sen. Mar­sha Black­burn of Ten­nessee ob­jected, block­ing it from pas­sage.

Trump ap­peared to praise Black­burn for the move on Twit­ter, tweet­ing that Democrats “con­tinue to look for a do-over on the Mueller Re­port.”

Warner tweeted back: “The Pres­i­dent is mak­ing it quite clear that he wants the Se­nate GOP to ob­struct any at­tempt to pre­vent fu­ture for­eign elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.”

House Democrats hope to move their elec­tion se­cu­rity bills in the com­ing weeks, ahead of the month­long Au­gust re­cess. In ad­di­tion to the leg­is­la­tion to im­prove state elec­tion sys­tems, the pack­age will in­clude leg­is­la­tion by New Jer­sey Rep. Tom Mali­nowski to bar cam­paigns from shar­ing pri­vate ma­te­ri­als with for­eign govern­ments. Sim­i­lar to Warner’s leg­is­la­tion, it would re­quire re­port­ing to au­thor­i­ties if cam­paigns are ap­proached by for­eign ac­tors with of­fers of as­sis­tance that in­volve il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity, such as hack­ing.

Mali­nowski’s bill was prompted by two episodes de­scribed in Mueller’s re­port — a meet­ing be­tween Trump cam­paign staff and a Rus­sian lawyer, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween Trump’s then-cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort and a busi­ness as­so­ciate ac­cused of hav­ing ties to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

Emails lead­ing up to the cam­paign meet­ing — which was at­tended by the pres­i­dent’s son, Don­ald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and Manafort — promised dirt on Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, but no one no­ti­fied au­thor­i­ties.

Mali­nowski’s bill would re­quire po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns to file “sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity re­ports” in such sit­u­a­tions.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democrats are fo­cus­ing on elec­tion se­cu­rity in the run-up to the 2020 elec­tion.

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