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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Everything you need to know
Four months after he sent his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign to Attorney General William Barr, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly Wednesday about what his investigators did — and didn’t — find.
Here’s a look at how and when to watch, and what to expect:
Mueller hearing time
His hearings won’t start that early, but they are early for Congress — he is set to begin his testimony promptly at 8:30 am before the House Judiciary Committee.
He’s expected to testify between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to Judiciary, and then go before a second committee, House Intelligence, at noon for approximately two hours.
Who will be doing the questioning?
The Judiciary Committee has 41 members and the Intelligence Committee has 22. While all of the Intelligence committee members are expected to get five minutes to ask questions, it is likely that some members of the larger Judiciary panel will get less time for questioning.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is expected to make a brief opening statement, as is the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and that committee’s ranking Republican, Schiff’s fellow Californian Rep. Devin Nunes, will each make five-minute opening statements at the Intel hearing.
Will Mueller make an opening statement?
A spokesman for Mueller said Monday he will make a brief opening statement before both committees before giving them a lengthy official statement — his 448-page report on Russian interference.
Will Congress get the unredacted report?
Not on Wednesday. The version of the report Mueller is submitting for the official record will have the same number of redactions that were made by the Attorney General before the document became public — over 900 of them.
What is Mueller expected to say?
He has said his report “speaks for itself” and that he won’t provide any information “beyond what is already public.”
Democrats say they aren’t expecting any new bombshells, but they believe Mueller’s testimony will be an eye-opener for the American public. Nadler told “Fox News Sunday” the report “presents very substantial evidence” that President Donald Trump “is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Schiff said he wants Mueller to bring his report “to life.”
At the Aspen Security Conference on Saturday, Schiff told NBC’s Kristen Welker that it could be worthwhile to have Mueller read some portions of the report out loud.
“I do think there’s value in particular passages in the report to have the special counsel literally speak it in his own words,” Schiff said.
Republicans are expected to press Mueller on the political affiliations of some of his prosecutors, who Trump has repeatedly derided as “angry Democrats.” They’re also expected to focus on the report’s bottom line — that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has said the report concluded there was “no collusion” and ” no obstruction,” but Democratic lawmakers plan to highlight at least five instances of what they say is obstruction of justice from the report, staffers told NBC News.
“What’s important is there is truly shocking evidence of criminal misconduct by the president — not once but again and again and again — that would result in any other American being criminally charged in a multiple count indictment,” one Democrat staffer said last week.
Where can I watch the hearings?
NBC News will air a special report beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET that will continue into the afternoon through both sessions. On MSNBC, live coverage will start at 6 a.m. ET. The testimony will also stream live on NBC News NOW, NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, YouTube, and other streaming platforms beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Will Trump watch?
He said on Friday he would not, but acknowledged to reporters at the White House on Monday he would “probably” watch a little.
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