National: Mike Conaway Emerges From Relative Obscurity to Lead House Russia Inquiry | The New York Times

President Trump does not know Mike Conaway. A Republican congressman from a long brush stroke of West Texas, Mr. Conaway recalled meeting with him at the White House with other House Republicans. And he has shaken hands with Mr. Trump, a “standard, 500-people-on-a-rope-line, shaken-hand kind of thing.” “He wouldn’t know me from third base,” Mr. Conaway said. Whether he has exchanged pleasantries with the president may not have mattered before, but it does now. Mr. Conaway is taking over the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. He is replacing Representative Devin Nunes, the California Republican whose suspiciously cozy relationship with Mr. Trump derailed the inquiry before he was ultimately forced to step aside.

National: How will Big Data change gerrymandering? Both parties are eager to know what you do online | Salon

When you exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike just north of Pennsylvania, on Main Street in working-class Norristown, you’re in the overwhelmingly Democratic 13th congressional district — at least for a couple of miles. The help-wanted signs are in Spanish; people walk past the Premier Barber Institute, bail bondsmen, and the 99-cent stores wearing branded short-sleeve shirts from their chain-store jobs. But come around a corner and up and hill and suddenly the neighborhoods turn leafy and green. Suburban-looking dads walk large dogs with flowing tresses. The houses are lovely and set back from the road. This three-quarter-mile stretch is in one of the nation’s most infamously gerrymandered districts, Pennsylvania’s reliably Republican seventh, a one-time swing district so wildly drawn that it resembles Donald Duck kicking Goofy. Signs warn drivers not to tailgate.

National: The mathematician who’s using geometry to fight gerrymandering | PRI

After every new US census, states have to redraw their congressional districts to divide up their populations fairly. But in practice, these districts don’t always end up equal: Federal judges recently ordered Wisconsin lawmakers to redraw maps of the state’s legislative districts, after finding the districts had been shaped to favor Republican candidates. Allegations of gerrymandering are also playing out in states like Texas and North Carolina. So what does a gerrymandered district even look like on a map? More like a carved-out jigsaw piece than a rounded blot, as it turns out. But as Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin explains, gerrymandering can be difficult to prove, even when something about a district’s shape seems fishy. “We’ve had justices saying that, ‘We know a bizarre, irrational shape when we see it, but we don’t know what precisely should the threshold be which makes a shape too tortured, or irregular, or unreasonable,’” she says. (Take a closer look at district shapes across the US.)

National: British spies were first to spot Trump team’s links with Russia | The Guardian

Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told. GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said. The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence – known as sigint – included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

National: Safer Elections Mean Newer Equipment, No Networks | StateTech Magazine

Among the many contentious arguments of the 2016 presidential election was the question of the security of the vote itself. Accusations flew, with claims that the election would be rigged or hacked in some way. In part, those accusations were lent credence by the state of voting equipment in the United States. In many localities, equipment is approaching the end of its useful life; many states and counties last upgraded with the help of federal funding provided through the Help America Vote Act of 2002. “As the 2000 election demonstrated, and now again, elections in general and voting technology in particular is a highly under-resourced and underappreciated part of our democratic infrastructure,” says Professor Charles Stewart III of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab.

National: Global Cyber Norms Insufficient to Prevent Future Election Hacks | MeriTalk

As the State Department works to gain international support for its cybersecurity framework, experts said that global norms and deterrence won’t be enough to convince state actors not to influence elections through cyber means in the future. Robert Axelrod, Walgreen Professor for the study of human understanding at the University of Michigan, compared the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hacks to Watergate. Both incidents involved the theft of information. The difference is that in Watergate, the incident was handled by domestic law enforcement and the president resigned. In the DNC hacks the incident was handled by international powers and there was “minor retaliation,” according to Axelrod. … “I think we’re going to see a lot more attacks like them in future campaigns,” said J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. Halderman said that most people think that the United States’ voting machines are secure because they are different in each county and they aren’t connected to the Internet. “In fact, many of these things break down,” said Halderman.

National: The Entirely Preventable Battles Raging Over Voting Rights | The Atlantic

In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts made a sweeping declaration about the state of voting rights in America. “Our country has changed,” he wrote in his majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, “and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” With those words, Roberts and four other justices on the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a hammer of a civil-rights law that helped bludgeon recalcitrant states toward multiracial democracy. The majority concluded Congress was relying on out-of-date data when formulating which jurisdictions still had to receive federal approval to change their election laws and policies—a practice known as preclearance that’s meant to block discriminatory measures. Four justices, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, denounced the decision in stark terms. “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA,” she wrote in dissent.

National: Gorsuch Arrives At The Supreme Court At A Crucial Moment For Voting Rights | TPM

Less then a week into the job, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will have his first chance, behind closed doors at least, to weigh in on voting rights. When the justices meet Friday for their private conference, the first since Gorsuch’s confirmation, among the cases that they will be considering whether to take up is an appeal of a landmark ruling striking down North Carolina’s mammoth restrictive voting law. The moment is an anxious one for voting rights advocates, who had seen a number of lower court victories on key cases in the months since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and were cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court was about to flip their way in time for them to cement that progress at the highest court. While it is unclear how Gorsuch is likely to rule on the major questions bubbling up in voting rights litigation, if he does represent the second coming of Scalia, as he has been billed by his supporters, then some of those intermediary wins are now at risk.

National: New threat rising to Voting Rights Act | National Constitution Center

About four years after the Supreme Court took away the government’s strongest authority to protect minority voters’ rights, a backup power under the federal Voting Rights Act – weaker and harder to use – is now being threatened, just as federal courts have begun applying it. At issue now, as it was when the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, is a form of government supervision of voting rights that goes by the technical term, “pre-clearance.” When operating against a state or local government, that means that officials cannot put any new voting law or procedure – however minor – into effect without first getting approval in Washington, D.C. Three cases now developing in federal courts based in Texas are testing whether the variation of “pre-clearance” will take the place of what the Supreme Court scuttled. And there are already serious challenges facing that prospect, in each of those cases.

National: Trump Says Voter Fraud Is a Huge Problem. A Top Republican Election Official Disagrees | Time

As voters began selecting their next president, Donald Trump repeatedly warned that Election 2016 was “rigged.” Millions of people, Trump said, are registered in two states and may therefore vote twice. Others would steal identities from the dead. Voting machines would malfunction. In January, less than a week into his presidency, Trump told lawmakers that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote — though not the election itself — to Democrat Hillary Clinton. He told senators a tale about ineligible voters being bussed into New Hampshire from Massachusetts. Trump then tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead an investigation into voter fraud. … That’s not how Matthew Masterson sees it. Masterson, the newly minted Republican chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, ranks Election 2016 among the most trouble-free elections ever.

National: FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page | The Washington Post

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said. The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials. This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

National: Classified docs contradict Nunes surveillance claims, GOP and Dem sources say | CNN

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN. Their private assessment contradicts President Donald Trump’s allegations that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law by requesting the “unmasking” of US individuals’ identities. Trump had claimed the matter was a “massive story.” However, over the last week, several members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees have reviewed intelligence reports related to those requests at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

National: U.S. Crackdown on Russian Hackers Ensnares Notorious Spammer | Bloomberg

U.S. efforts to disrupt Russian hacking rings took another step as a 10-year pursuit of a Russian man whom U.S. prosecutors called one of the world’s most notorious email spammers ended with his arrest in Spain last week. Peter Levashov, of St. Petersburg, Russia, hacked into email and bank accounts of thousands of Americans, federal prosecutors said Monday in a statement. They said he also operated under the name Peter Severa, who is among the top 10 of the world’s worst spammers, according to a list maintained by the antispam organization Spamhaus. The arrest is part of a crackdown on Russian hackers accused of targeting everything from financial institutions to the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russia orchestrated computer attacks to meddle with the election last fall, including a break-in to systems operated by the Democratic National Committee. That investigation is underway, and no charges have been filed.

National: Russian computer programmer arrested in Spain reportedly over US election hacking | The New York Times

He refused to meet business associates in person and never talked on the phone, preferring instead to communicate via encrypted messaging services. But the elaborate precautions taken by the Russian computer spam kingpin known as Peter Severa appear to have failed him. Acting on an F.B.I. request, the police in Spain arrested a man this weekend named Peter Levashov, according to Russian news media reports and Reuters, citing a Russian Embassy spokesman in Madrid. Western cybersecurity researchers have identified Mr. Levashov as Peter Severa, though some doubt he is the same person. The initial reports in Russian news media of Mr. Levashov’s arrest did not say if he was suspected by United States intelligence agencies of being involved in attempts by Russian government hackers to meddle in the 2016 American presidential election. The American intelligence agencies have said Russian hackers broke into the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the email of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and released documents in an effort to sway the election toward Donald J. Trump.

National: Questions, concerns continue to swirl around election security | GCN

At an April 4 Election Assistance Commission public hearing, a senior Department of Homeland Security official sought to stress one thing: The designation of election systems as critical infrastructure doesn’t cut into states’ autonomy. Concerns over DHS control have simmered since then-Secretary Jeh Johnson first suggested the critical infrastructure designation last summer. Yet Neil Jenkins, DHS’ director of the Enterprise Performance Management Office, said at the EAC hearing that his agency sees the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Election Cybersecurity Task Force as the main point of contact for deciding when DHS system-scanning tools are needed. Jenkins also said he sees the EAC as a critical point of contact for local officials who may be interested in utilizing DHS scanning and security products.

National: Devin Nunes steps aside from House intelligence committee’s Russia inquiry | The Guardian

Devin Nunes, Donald Trump’s chief ally on the congressional committees investigating the president’s connections to Russia, has stepped aside from the inquiry, as he faces his own ethics investigation. Less than two weeks after the Democrats on the House intelligence committee called for Nunes to recuse himself, the committee chairman said he would “temporarily” leave the inquiry in the hands of other rightwing Republicans, leaving it unclear how much Nunes’ absence would transform an investigation stalled by deep partisan infighting. Nunes, a member of Trump’s national security transition team and the head of the House intelligence committee, is now the subject of an inquiry from the House ethics panel. … Nunes’ decision makes him the second Trump ally to remove himself from the varied Russia investigations. The first, attorney general Jeff Sessions, stepped aside on 3 March after revelations that he had meetings with the Russian ambassador while part of the Trump campaign.

National: Clinton: ‘Deeply concerned’ about Russian election role | Associated Press

Hillary Clinton said she is “deeply concerned” about allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and says there needs to be an independent, nonpartisan investigation to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Speaking Thursday in New York at a summit on women’s issues, Clinton said Russian involvement was meant to sow “distrust and confusion. I think what was done to us was an act of aggression and it was carried out by a foreign power under the control of someone who has a deep desire to dominate Europe and send us into a tailspin,” she said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton called on Congress to put party squabbles aside and look into it. Otherwise, she said, “They will be back.”

National: C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed | The New York Times

The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump’s victory months later, former government officials say. The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia’s intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews. The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break.

National: The Coming Voting Rights Battle: Access vs. Accountability | WhoWhatWhy

For many years, the voting integrity community has grappled with the question of how to accommodate voters with disabilities without making elections less secure. There might finally be a solution on the horizon. One-sixth of the American electorate — over 35 million eligible voters — is disabled. For many of them, simple tasks that many of us take for granted — say, putting pen to paper — is, at best, terribly inconvenient, and, at worst, impossible. This is why the disabled prefer direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs), which advertise handicap-friendly features like touchscreens and audio-enabled ballots. But these machines often do not leave a paper trail, and are therefore considered less reliable by the voting-integrity community. This debate has created a rift among the advocates, forcing each side to think long and hard about how exactly to define a “fair election.” For many advocates, auditability — the degree to which an election outcome can be verified (audited) independent of the original vote-tabulating system — is the most important standard. According to this point of view, the only way to assure voters that elections have not been compromised (by incidental code hiccups or intentional tampering) is to create total system transparency — which means physical ballots and the paper trails they make possible. This is considered the ultimate safeguard against election tampering.

National: State And Local Officials Wary Of Federal Government’s Election Security Efforts | NPR

FBI Director James Comey has warned that Russia will try once again to influence U.S. elections, possibly as early as next year. To prepare, the federal government has declared elections to be a part of the nation’s critical infrastructure that demands special attention. But the federal government’s focus has state and local election officials, who are very protective of how they do things now, extremely nervous. They’re mainly concerned that the federal government will tell them how to run their elections — even down to where polling sites should be located — in the name of security.

National: Former Trump adviser admits to 2013 communication with Russian spy | The Washington Post

Carter Page, who served briefly as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, made an appearance in a federal espionage case because he communicated several years ago with a Russian intelligence agent under surveillance by the FBI. In a statement released Tuesday, Page confirmed his role in the 2015 Justice Department spy case, adding another twist to the still-unfolding story of Trump’s peculiar and expanding ties to people connected to Russia. Page said he assisted U.S. prosecutors in their case against Evgeny Buryakov, an undercover Kremlin agent then posing as a bank executive in New York. Buryakov was convicted of espionage and released from federal prison last week, a few months short of completing a 30-month sentence. Buryakov agreed to be immediately deported to Russia.

National: Russian Spies Tried to Recruit Carter Page Before He Advised Trump | The New York Times

Russian intelligence operatives tried in 2013 to recruit an American businessman and eventual foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who is now part of the F.B.I. investigation into Russia’s interference into the American election, according to federal court documents and a statement issued by the businessman. The businessman, Carter Page, met with one of three Russians who were eventually charged with being undeclared officers with Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the S.V.R. The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Page in 2013 as part of an investigation into the spy ring, but decided that he had not known the man was a spy, and the bureau never accused Mr. Page of wrongdoing.

National: House Democrats to Ryan: Recuse Nunes from Russia probe | The Hill

A group of 20 House Democrats is urging Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to remove Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) from the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of Russian election meddling last year. “Chairman Nunes’ recusal is critical in order to preserve the integrity and independence of the U.S. House of Representatives,” they wrote in a Tuesday letter to Ryan. “Congress must come together in a bipartisan fashion to understand the nature of this attack and the scope of Russian ties to [President Trump’s 2016] campaign, transition team and presidential administration,” they added. “This is about country, not party. Chairman Nunes has demonstrated his bias, and the public will no longer accept the results of this probe as legitimate under his leadership.”

National: How Russian Twitter Bots Pumped Out Fake News During The 2016 Election | NPR

When he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, former FBI agent Clint Watts described how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans. “So that way whenever you’re trying to socially engineer them and convince them that the information is true, it’s much more simple because you see somebody and they look exactly like you, even down to the pictures,” Watts told the panel, which is investigating Russia’s role in interfering in the U.S. elections. In an interview Monday with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says the Russian misinformation campaign didn’t stop with the election of President Trump.

National: FBI Turns Up the Heat on Russian Election Hacking Investigation | The Fiscal Times

President Donald Trump has been trying very hard to convince his supporters that the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interference in the US election and possible connections between members of his campaign and the Russian government are some sort of plot against him. Over the past several days, Trump has labeled the stories about the investigation “fake” and “a scam” on Twitter. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to disagree. Over the weekend, The Financial Times revealed that the agency charged with counter-espionage investigations is ramping up its inquiry into Russian election-meddling by bringing a veteran agent back to Washington to head up a new 20-person unit dedicated to the direction of the sprawling effort. One of the sources the FT relied on said that the change reflected a “surge” of new resources into the investigation, and was seen as confirmation that the agency is taking the case extremely seriously. At the same time, Trump has been using his social media accounts to point fingers everywhere but toward himself and his associates.

National: US Ambassador Haley Says Russia Was ‘Certainly’ Involved in U.S. Election | Bloomberg

The U.S. envoy to the United Nations says she’s maintaining a hard line against Russia, even as her boss — President Donald Trump — continues to dismiss reported Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election as “fake” news. “Certainly I think Russia was involved in the election,” Nikki Haley said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week” broadcast on Sunday, according to a transcript provided by the network. “There’s no question about that.” Haley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, made her first Sunday-show appearances since becoming the nation’s top diplomat at the UN as the U.S. prepared to take over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council.

National: Trump aide accused of Hatch Act violation after urging Amash primary challenge | Politico

A senior adviser to President Donald Trump on Saturday urged a primary challenge against a House Freedom Caucus member, prompting charges that he may have violated federal law against using his official position to sway an election campaign. Dan Scavino Jr., director of social media and senior White House adviser, tweeted that Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is a “big liability” for his state and encouraged a GOP primary opponent to oust him in 2018. But that tweet, sent from Scavino’s personal Twitter account, immediately landed him in controversy as ethics lawyers called out Scavino for possibly violating the Hatch Act, a Depression-era law that regulates campaigning by government officials.

National: Why Republicans Can’t Find the Big Voter Fraud Conspiracy | Politico

In the fall of 2002, just over a year after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft summoned a group of federal prosecutors to Washington. He had a new mission he wanted them to focus on: voter fraud. “Votes have been bought, voters intimidated and ballot boxes stuffed,” he told the attendees of the Justice Department’s inaugural Voting Integrity Symposium. “Voters have been duped into signing absentee ballots believing they were applications for public relief. And the residents of cemeteries have infamously shown up at the polls on election day.” This might seem an unusually dark portrait of America’s electoral system, coming from the nation’s top prosecutor. But Ashcroft spoke from personal experience. In 2000, as a U.S. Senator from Missouri, he lost his re-election bid to a dead man. His opponent, Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash three weeks before Election Day. It was too late to remove the governor’s name from the ballot, so his wife, Jean, announced she would serve his term. Mel Carnahan won by 49,000 votes. Ashcroft and his fellow Missouri Republicans were outraged. Skeptical that voters might simply have preferred any Carnahan to him, Ashcroft and other Republicans accused Democrats in St. Louis of trying to steal the election by keeping the polls open later than usual. They dubbed it a “major criminal enterprise”. That December, George W. Bush nominated the out-of-work Ashcroft to be his first attorney general.

National: DHS on elections systems as critical infrastructure: ‘It was already the law’ | Cyberscoop

A Homeland Security official gave some more insight into their efforts on designating election systems as critical infrastructure shortly after the 2016 presidential election, saying it helped the department streamline communication in the event of a incident. Neil Jenkins, from DHS’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, gave the first detailed account Wednesday of the process leading up to the controversial decision, which was made by departing officials in the final days of the Obama administration and widely panned by state and local authorities. DHS designated election systems in 30,000 jurisdictions as critical infrastructure to ensure there would be someone in regular communication with state and local election officials about cyber threats to national polls. Jenkins told NIST’s Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board that in August and September, when officials first became aware of Russian efforts to interfere with the election, the “started trying to catalogue the services we could offer to state authorities,” to help them shore up network security and protect the systems that tabulated and reported results.

National: Mike Flynn Offers to Testify in Exchange for Immunity | Wall Street Journal

Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. As an adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and later one of Mr. Trump’s top aides in the White House, Mr. Flynn was privy to some of the most sensitive foreign-policy deliberations of the new administration and was directly involved in discussions about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He has made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees through his lawyer but has so far found no takers, the officials said.