Top intelligence, homeland, cybersecurity officials to brief Congress on election security

By KAROUN DEMIRJIAN | The Washington Post | Published: July 10, 2019

WASHINGTON — The full House and Senate will be briefed about election security on Wednesday by the Trump administration’s top intelligence, homeland security and cybersecurity officials as the parties battle over how to safeguard against foreign threats to the integrity of the 2020 elections.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, FBI director Christopher Wray, National Security Agency and Cyber Command Director Paul Nakasone, and Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan are some of the top brass expected to brief lawmakers, according to aides. The House will be briefed first, followed by the Senate, about the current threats to election systems, the state of the country’s preparedness to withstand another organized attempt to interfere in federal elections, and what if any steps are needed from Congress to bolster defenses.

The briefings are scheduled for one week before two House panels are expected to grill former special counsel Robert Mueller, who wrote an extensive report detailing the nature of Kremlin-directed interference during the 2016 election, indicting more than two dozen Russian actors in the process. Next week, the Senate Intelligence Committee also is expected to put out a detailed report detailing recommendations for election security, the first final, bipartisan report to emerge from Congress since lawmakers began investigating what happened during the 2016 election.

Lawmakers of both major parties agree that Russia used a campaign of disinformation and influence to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, though in the House, they are largely divided over whether the Kremlin’s aim was to sow general discord or to help Trump’s chances, as the intelligence community has determined. Republicans and Democrats also are divided about what measures are necessary to identify and deter future election interference, remaining at odds over Democrat-endorsed measures such as bills to require online platforms to disclose of who pays for advertisements and campaigns to report any overtures from foreign actors to the FBI.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that Democrats “seem to have already made up their minds before we hear from the experts today that a brand-new, sweeping Washington, D.C., intervention is just what the doctor ordered” to promote election security — noting, as he has before, that the 2018 midterm election cycle was more secure than the 2016 presidential election, and crediting Trump for the difference.

“I look forward to ensuring that any additional federal action actually addresses the problems at hand,” McConnell continued. “That it preserve, rather than undermine, the careful checks and balances that have been key parts of American democracy since the beginning.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday repeated an accusation that McConnell was blocking worthwhile measures and funding from going to bolster election security efforts further.

“The Russians interfered. … Donald Trump encouraged them to interfere publicly, and now McConnell has the temerity to blame President Obama? What a remarkable feat of revisionist history,” Schumer said. “It’s unbelievable in this Trump administration, unlikely any other administration, Democrat or Republican before, interest in the election by a foreign power is made political. It’s a disgrace.”

Homeland Security Cyber Director Chris Krebs, the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Kenneth Rapuano, and Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division John Demers also are scheduled to take part in Wednesday’s briefings.

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