WASHINGTON — Not every Republican agrees with President Trump that foreigners have a role to play in American elections.
In fact, some GOP senators have joined with Democrats to co-sponsor legislation designed to shore up voting machines and make it harder for foreign intelligence operatives to hack, leak and manipulate social media the way the Russians did in 2016.
But those bills are going nowhere — because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not allowed a vote on any of them.
“At this point, I don’t see any likelihood that those bills would get to the floor if we mark them up,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who serves under McConnell in the Senate leadership, said last month.
McConnell himself has avoided commenting directly on the bills. He declined to respond to questions about them at his weekly news conference this week, although he announced that senators would get a briefing on election security.
The election security and foreign interference legislation is garnering renewed attention in the wake of Trump’s comments Wednesday to ABC News that he saw nothing wrong with accepting incriminating information about a political opponent from Russia or other foreign governments.
“It’s not an interference. They have information,” Trump said. “I think I’d take it.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, immediately tweeted in response to Trump’s comments that “if the president and his campaign can’t be trusted to do the right thing,” Congress should pass his bill, which would require political campaigns to report to the FBI and federal election authorities any attempt of contact by foreign nationals offering services or information.
On Thursday, in the wake of Trump’s comments, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Warner made a request to pass the measure; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., objected.
That measure doesn’t have any Republican co-sponsors. But Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally, has joined with Democrats in co-sponsoring the “Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act,” which would make it a federal crime to hack any voting systems used in a federal election.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., meanwhile, has co-sponsored the “Deter Act,” which would require the U.S. director of National Intelligence to determine, within 30 days of any federal election, whether Russia or other foreign government had engaged in election interference.
If interference was discovered, the act would require that mandatory sanctions be imposed within 10 days on Russian banks and energy companies, among other targets.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has sponsored a bill that would craft voluntary security guidelines for voting systems — a measure that does not go far enough for most Democrats.
On the social media front, a bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic candidate for president, would require that political ads placed on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube be subject to the same disclosure requirements as television spots. That would allow the public to learn who was paying for the ads and how much was spent.
The Democratic-controlled House has passed several election security and foreign interference measures, but few if any of them have a chance of becoming law. The Democrats did insert $600 million for election security in a must-pass spending bill, but that will have to be negotiated.
According to published reports, McConnell refused in September 2016 to sign on to a bipartisan warning about Russian election interference when the Obama administration requested one from Congress.
McConnell’s office has pushed back by pointing to a September 2016 letter, signed by congressional leaders from both parties, and sent to the president of the National Association of State Election Directors that warned state officials about possible hacking efforts, but did not mention Russia.
For his part, even before he decreed it morally acceptable to make use of opposition research from foreign intelligence operatives, Trump has displayed little interest in the issue of how to protect American elections from outside interference.
While individual agencies such as the FBI have stepped up efforts to combat foreign influence, there is no evidence of a coordinated policy response out of the White House — something experts say is badly needed to grapple with difficult issues surrounding social media and free speech — and the local control afforded to America’s county-by-county voting system.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and top intelligence officials have said they expect Russia and other nations to attempt to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, building on the successful playbook that Russia employed in 2016.
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Democrats’ impeachment report cites Trump obstruction and withholding aid, warns of ‘grave harm’
WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday containing a summary of the evidence it has collected in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
The 300-page report cited two instances of misconduct by the president: obstruction of the House inquiry and withholding an official White House meeting and U.S. military aid from Ukraine on the condition of investigating a Trump political rival.
“This report chronicles a scheme of the President of the United States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president’s political dirty work,” said Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., at a press conference outlining his committee’s findings.
The House Intelligence Committee voted 13-9 in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening to send the report to the Judiciary, which will start proceedings on Wednesday.
While the report, which was also prepared by the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, didn’t explicitly include recommendations of articles of impeachment, it strongly implies that obstruction could be one. The report noted that past presidents who were the subject of impeachment inquiries, unlike Trump, complied with subpoenas and requests for information from Congress.
On obstruction, which was described as a “campaign of intimidation,” the report cast Trump’s efforts to “flout” congressional oversight as unprecedented because of his refusal to hand over documents and make certain witnesses available. But it also noted that “the House gathered overwhelming evidence of his misconduct from courageous individuals who were willing to follow the law.”
“No other President has flouted the Constitution and power of Congress to conduct oversight to this extent,” the report said.
“If left unanswered, President Trump’s ongoing effort to thwart Congress’ impeachment power risks doing grave harm to the institution of Congress, the balance of power between our branches of government, and the Constitutional order that the President and every Member of Congress have sworn to protect and defend.”
The report also constructed a detailed timeline of Trump’s alleged efforts to withhold military assistance to Ukraine, as well as an official invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet with Trump in the White House. The timeline was based on the testimony of various aides and diplomats who have been questioned by impeachment investigators.
Ukraine “desperately wanted and needed” U.S. security assistance as well as a White House meeting between its president, Zelenskiy, and Trump, Schiff said.
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“At the same time, there was something President Trump desperately wanted and believed that he needed — and that was an investigation that would damage the rival that he feared the most, Joe Biden, as well as an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in our last election,” he said.
The report included a number of new details that stemmed from AT&T phone records obtained by the House, which showed someone who was using a phone number associated with the Office of Management and Budget called the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in early August during the period when the U.S. aid to Ukraine was frozen. That same day, call records show Giuliani also called the White House Situation Room five times as well as the OMB number.
To freeze the security assistance — which was announced to Trump administration officials on July 18, and not reversed until Sept. 11 — Trump inquired about the aid starting in mid-June and around July 12 “directed that a hold be placed” on the aid to Ukraine, the report said.
“In making the decision to move forward, we were struck by the fact that the President’s misconduct was not an isolated occurrence, nor was it the product of a naïve president,” the report said.
“President Trump does not appear to believe there is any such limitation on his power to use White House meetings, military aid or other official acts to procure foreign help in his re-election.”
The president’s conduct, which put “his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people,” Schiff said, is “exactly why they prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment.”
“We have a very difficult decision ahead of us to make,” said Schiff, who explained that it will be a decision made by the House Judiciary Committee in conjunction with the House Democratic Caucus.
The report puts the White House summary of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president at the center of the inquiry, calling it “stark evidence of misconduct” and “a demonstration of the President’s prioritization of his personal political benefit over the national interest.”
But, the report claimed, this conversation was “neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.”
“Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Acting Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Energy, and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President,” the report said.
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During his Tuesday remarks, Schiff said Americans should care deeply about whether the president is “betraying their trust in him” and betraying the oath he took to the Constitution.
“If we don’t care about this, we can darn well be sure the president will be back at it doing this all over again,” he said.
The release came ahead of a Tuesday evening meeting scheduled for the panel to consider and vote on adopting the report. The report, along with views provided by Republicans, will then be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which is taking over the next phase of the inquiry.
Much of the evidence came from 17 closed-door interviews with key witnesses, and over two weeks of public hearings last month with a dozen of those witnesses.
In their public testimony, a number of those 12 witnesses confirmed and elaborated on the efforts allegedly made by Trump, his associates and administration officials to get Ukraine to announce investigations into those two issues, and why they believed delayed U.S. aid to Ukraine would only be released once that nation followed through on those demands.
Republicans on the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees released a 123-page minority report Monday evening that argues that Democrats have failed to establish any impeachable offenses by Trump. They said that they didn’t find that Trump engaged in any wrongdoing, and that there was no quid pro quo.
Republicans said there was no evidence that Trump improperly withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine or pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden to help benefit his 2020 re-election campaign, arguing that much of Trump’s action regarding Ukraine actually stems from his “longstanding” skepticism of the country due to “its history of pervasive corruption.”
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first impeachment hearing, which its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump.”
Nadler extended an invitation to Trump and his counsel to participate in Wednesday’s hearing, but the White House said Sunday that they had declined the offer. The president is in London this week for the 2019 NATO summit.
It has not yet been decided how many hearings Judiciary might hold or what charges potentially might be wrapped into articles of impeachment. Some lawmakers have recently raised the possibility that other cases could be considered, such as those stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
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