A Democratic senator is looking for answers on whether the Trump administration will keep in place the designation of election infrastructure as “critical” and, if so, how the new administration plans to implement it. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) directed a number of questions at Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in a letter this month in order to better understand the designation, which was made by his predecessor Jeh Johnson just weeks before Barack Obama left the White House. The designation was also made in timing with the release of the intelligence community’s report on Russian election interference, which assessed that Russian intelligence accessed elements of state and local electoral boards. In doing so, the Obama administration opened up election infrastructure—including polling places, vote tabulations locations, and technology such as voting machines and registration databases-–to federal protections upon request from state and local governments.
National: Top Election Officials Have No Idea What Trump Is Planning To Do In His Voter Fraud Investigation | The Huffington Post
Despite insistence that widespread voter fraud exists and pledges to investigate the matter fully, it seems the Trump administration has not bothered to contact top state election officials across the country. The Huffington Post asked all 50 secretaries of state and election officials in the District of Columbia if they had been contacted by the White House or Department of Justice regarding the forthcoming investigation. Not a single secretary of state’s office responded to say that it had. Forty-one different secretaries of state and election officials in the District of Columbia said they had not been contacted. Eight states ― Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming ― did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Texas Attorney General’s office, which handles investigations into voter fraud in the state, declined to comment. “Not a peep,” Linda Lamone, the state administrator of elections in Maryland wrote in an email.
Lindsey Graham lacks the resources and access that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have to investigate Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. But his Senate Judiciary subcommittee has something the intelligence panels don’t: a Republican chairman viewed not as a Donald Trump ally but as a fierce critic, who has no qualms with bucking party leaders to unravel the mystery of Russia’s interference in the election. Graham and his Democratic partner, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, will seize the spotlight Wednesday during a public hearing on Russia’s election interference, to be held by Graham’s Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which has jurisdiction over the FBI.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Tuesday that FBI Director James Comey promised to tell him Wednesday whether the FBI is investigating ties between Russia and the campaign of President Donald Trump. The Rhode Island Democrat said that Comey made the promise in a March 2 meeting with him and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. According to Whitehouse, Comey assured them he would confirm if an investigation exists “and the scope of their Russia/Trump investigation because he had not been able to at that point say that there was one.”
Prominent Republicans across the country are breathing a sigh of relief that President Donald Trump has so far not aggressively pursued his pledge for a “major investigation” into his allegations of widespread voter fraud that he claims robbed him the popular vote. Current and former GOP state party chairs and other officials said in interviews that the unverified allegation was at best a distraction and at worst a damaging statement that could erode confidence in elections. And even as Trump continues to make some outrageous claims — including that former President Barack Obama tapped his Trump Tower phones — he’s now directing much of his attention to replacing Obamacare and juicing up the job market.
Efforts are growing in Congress to give states more federal help on cybersecurity, amid heightened fears about the vulnerability of state data systems. A flurry of bills introduced this month would compel the federal government to share resources and assistance with state and local governments to fix cyber vulnerabilities and prepare for hacks. At least one of the bills deals specifically with securing voting systems in the wake of Russia’s cyberattacks on political organizations during the 2016 campaign. That bill, introduced by Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Jim Langevin (R.I.), would offer grants to encourage states to use newer and more secure voting systems. It would also give grants to states for boosting access to the polls. “In 43 of the 50 states, we’re dealing with outdated voting equipment more than a decade old,” Connolly told The Hill. “We had Russian hacking, and we want to make sure people can feel secure about voting.”
The Federal Election Commission — an agency of clashing commissioners, seething staffers and key vacancies — may soon face congressmen who wonder: Why’s the agency a basket case? Such a trip under Congress’ microscope could come in the form of a Committee on House Administration oversight hearing, something the FEC hasn’t endured since 2011, when super PACs were still novel and the now-seminal Citizens United v. FEC decision wasn’t yet two years old. A planned oversight hearing in 2014 never materialized. “It’s time,” Committee on House Administration member Barry Loudermilk, a Republican congressman from Georgia, told the Center for Public Integrity. “We should take the opportunity and have a re-evaluation.” An oversight hearing is “both urgent and necessary” and should be conducted “sooner rather than later,” said Jamie Fleet, a spokesman for Rep. Robert Brady, the committee’s ranking Democrat.
WikiLeaks is helping to cast doubt on the conclusion of intelligence agencies that the Russian government was behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee, in what appears to be the latest disinformation campaign orchestrated by Moscow. The site leaked a trove of purported CIA hacking tools this week and zeroed in on what it called the agency’s effort to “misdirect attribution” of cyber attacks to other nations, including Russia. Fake accounts on Twitter seized on the claim to dispute that Russia sought to interfere in the U.S. election last year, noted Ryan Kalember, senior vice president for cybersecurity strategy at Proofpoint. He described the WikiLeaks release as playing into a larger “disinformation campaign” aimed at undermining the intelligence community’s attribution of cyber attacks, particularly those to Russia.
As congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election ramp up, so is the political division, raising questions about whether lawmakers’ work will be viewed as credible. The House this week scheduled its first public hearing, which some swiftly dismissed as political theater. Even as lawmakers began to review classified information at CIA’s headquarters, Democrats continued to call for an independent panel and special prosecutor. The dynamic underscored the escalating concerns about whether the Republican-led investigations will have the funding, focus and, perhaps most importantly, bipartisan buy-in to produce findings that are broadly accepted and definitive.
National: FBI examining Alfa Bank pinging Trump Organization servers during election | Business Insider
The FBI is examining why a computer server for a Russian bank led by oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin had a disproportionate interest in reaching a server used by the Trump Organization during the US presidential campaign. CNN reported on Thursday that last summer a computer server owned by the Russia-based Alfa Bank “repeatedly looked up the contact information for a computer server being used by the Trump Organization — far more than other companies did, representing 80% of all lookups to the Trump server.” Slate and The New York Times first reported on the unusual server activity, which was akin to looking up someone’s phone number thousands of times. The Times reported on October 31 that the FBI examined the server activity and “ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”
You might be asking yourself, whatever happened to Vice President Mike Pence’s investigation into President Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in November? It’s been over a month since the president said he would ask Pence to lead a “major investigation” into those claims and the overall issue of voter fraud. Well, apparently, not much has happened so far. A spokesman for Pence said in an e-mail this week that they’re “still doing the necessary groundwork.” And White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the Vice President has been “talking to folks potentially to serve on” his task force and that several secretaries of state have expressed interest. But a spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) says they’re unaware of any of their members being approached to participate in the investigation. And when NASS representatives went to the White House Tuesday to get an update on the vice president’s plans, they were told there was “no information to share” at this time.
Amid concerns that Russia helped sway the 2016 presidential election, several states are considering legislation that would bar companies with significant foreign ties from contributing money in state campaigns. A long-standing federal statute bars noncitizens and foreign companies from donating directly to candidates or political parties at the federal, state and local levels. Another law prohibits businesses from directly donating to federal-level candidates or political parties. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case cleared the way for corporations and unions to pay for political ads made independently of candidates’ campaigns. The high court ruled that corporations and unions are associations of U.S. citizens with a First Amendment right to political expression.
Vice President Pence has yet to begin a promised investigation into allegations by President Trump that millions of people voted illegally in November. But that hasn’t stopped state lawmakers from taking action they say would limit voter fraud, even though the president’s claims have been widely discredited. Legislation to tighten voter ID and other requirements has already been introduced in about half the states this year. And in statehouse after statehouse, the debate has had a familiar ring. “We do not have a voter fraud problem in North Dakota,” Democratic Rep. Mary Schneider argued last month during a state House floor debate of a measure that would tighten that state’s voter ID requirements and increase penalties for voter fraud. “To say that there’s not a voter fraud problem in North Dakota, I think that’s another inaccurate statement. Maybe there have been no convicted cases but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have an issue,” countered Republican Christopher Olson, shortly before the measure was approved by a vote of 74-16.
Democrats pushed Tuesday for a special prosecutor to examine the Trump administration’s potential ties to Russia, using a confirmation hearing to urge the No. 2 pick at the Justice Department to consider handing over any such investigation to an independent overseer. “We need steel spines, not weak knees when it comes to political independence in the Department of Justice,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat. The remarks came during a hearing for Rod Rosenstein, a longtime federal prosecutor tapped for deputy attorney general, which instead became a referendum on Russian meddling in the presidential election.
National: FBI investigation continues into ‘odd’ computer link between Russian bank and Trump Organization | CNN
Federal investigators and computer scientists continue to examine whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank, sources close to the investigation tell CNN. Questions about the possible connection were widely dismissed four months ago. But the FBI’s investigation remains open, the sources said, and is in the hands of the FBI’s counterintelligence team — the same one looking into Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 election. One U.S. official said investigators find the server relationship “odd” and are not ignoring it. But the official said there is still more work for the FBI to do. Investigators have not yet determined whether a connection would be significant.
The House Intelligence Committee is nearing an agreement with the nation’s intelligence agencies for full access to the information that underlay the recent classified report on Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s presidential election. Among the information the committee hopes to gain access to is any evidence that implicates Russian President Vladimir Putin in ordering the hacks of Democratic National Committee computers and the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. In a report delivered Jan. 6 to then-President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency said Putin had personally ordered the hacks as part of an effort to damage Clinton’s presidential campaign. During the course of the campaign, the agencies concluded, Putin’s emphasis changed to helping Trump win election.
National: Classified documents show troubling efforts by Russia to influence election, Sen. King says | Portland Press Herald
Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King expressed heightened concerns Thursday about Russian attempts to infiltrate state election systems after he reviewed a trove of classified documents on Moscow’s campaign to influence the 2016 presidential race. King said he spent “a couple of hours” Wednesday reviewing the classified documents at CIA headquarters as part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 elections. While King said he could not provide any specifics, he said the documents provided “substantial backup” to the declassified Jan. 6 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded Russian government officials “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”
il rights leaders who met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions Tuesday asked him to urge President Donald Trump not to proceed with his plans for a blue-ribbon panel to investigate Trump’s own claims that millions of people voted illegally for his opponent in last year’s presidential race. “I asked him to counsel the president against the creation of such a task force and a commission because that commission will be seen to intimidate our communities,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “In the absence of any evidence of voter fraud, he should be counseling the president away from such a course….We don’t need an investigation into something that doesn’t exist. We should not be crediting the fantasies of this president at the cost of African Americans and Latinos feeling secure that they’re not being intimidated from voting and participating in the process.”
National: Democrats move to give grants to states for boosting voting security, access to polls | The Hill
A pair of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would give federal grants to states to boost voting system security and increase voter access to elections. Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.) and Jim Langevin (R.I.) introduced the Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely (FAST) Voting Act to improve voter participation and voting system security and encourage automatic voter registration. “Access to the ballot is fundamental to American democracy,” Connolly said in a statement. “In recent years, several states have taken action to restrict the franchise under the guise of preventing ‘voter fraud.’ America doesn’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a participation problem. Rather than erect barriers, we should be looking for innovative ways to expand the franchise and streamline the voting process.” Connolly appeared to buck President Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election.
The House Oversight Committee will not investigate President Donald Trump’s unproven claims of wide-spread voter fraud during the 2016 election, Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Tuesday. Speaking on CNN, the Utah representative said he does not see any evidence to back up Trump’s tweets. “We can’t just investigate everything that’s ever thrown out there by the Democrats, by the Republicans. We have to pick and choose,” he said. Trump has repeatedly, and without evidence, pushed claims that millions of ballots were cast illegally in the 2016 election and called for a probe into the issue. Days after his inauguration, Trump tweeted: “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead.”
The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing in its contentious investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on March 20, Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced Tuesday. The hearing is scheduled for the same day that Senate is set to begin its own high-stakes hearing to weigh the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant slot on the Supreme Court. A preliminary witness list, which Nunes cautioned may be modified or expanded as necessary, includes a who’s-who of current and former senior intelligence officials linked to the probe. Invited to testify are: FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that first put the finger on the Russians for the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Four months after Election Day, Republican and Democratic administrators have uncovered only a handful of instances of improper or illegal voting despite President Trump’s unfounded allegations of millions of fraudulent ballots. Trump has claimed that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally on Election Day, costing him the popular vote. But numbers from around the country suggest that a few hundred people at most broke voting rules. In some cases, legitimately registered voters cast multiple ballots, either by voting absentee and in person, or by voting more than once in different jurisdictions. In other cases, voters in states that require identification refused to show those documents. Fewer than a hundred noncitizens have been referred to law enforcement officials for alleged voting infractions.
National: Data Firm Cambridge Analytica Says ‘Secret Sauce’ Aided Trump; Many Scoff | The New York Times
Standing before political and business leaders in New York last fall, Alexander Nix promised a revolution. Many companies compete in the market for political microtargeting, using huge data sets and sophisticated software to identify and persuade voters. But Mr. Nix’s little-known firm, Cambridge Analytica, claimed to have developed something unique: “psychographic” profiles that could predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every American adult. “Of the two candidates left in the election, one of them is using these technologies,” Mr. Nix said, referring to Donald J. Trump. Capitalizing on its work for the man who is now president, Cambridge has pitched potential clients in the United States ranging from MasterCard and the New York Yankees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ahead of this year’s elections in Europe, Mr. Nix is promoting the four-year-old United States-based company abroad, too. Cambridge Analytica’s rise has rattled some of President Trump’s critics and privacy advocates, who warn of a blizzard of high-tech, Facebook-optimized propaganda aimed at the American public, controlled by the people behind the alt-right hub Breitbart News. Cambridge is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart chairman who is Mr. Trump’s senior White House counselor, served until last summer as vice president of Cambridge’s board.
National: Judge Sends Voter Registration Case Back to Election Assistance Commission | Courthouse News Service
A federal judge says it’s up to the Election Assistance Commission to decide whether its executive director exceeded his authority when he allowed three states to change a national mail voter registration form to include a requirement of proof of U.S. citizenship. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, held the case must be remanded to the commission “for the limited purpose of providing an interpretation of its internal directive which is necessary for resolution of the threshold issue of whether [Executive Director Brian] Newby acted within his subdelegated authority.” The dispute over the form involves Newby’s 2016 decision to allow Alabama, Georgia and Kansas to change the voter registration form. The three states had previously requested the modifications to reflect their respective state laws. Newby said that he considered their approval to be “ministerial.”
State legislators across the country are debating new measures that would require candidates running for president to publicly disclose their tax returns to qualify for the ballot. The measures are aimed at President Trump, who became the first White House candidate in recent times refuse to release his tax documents to the public. Democrats, incensed by Trump’s false claims of being prevented from releasing the documents because of an IRS audit, see the legislation on the state level as a way to force the president’s hand when he seeks reelection in 2020. “Tax return information would provide some transparency there to give voters the assurance that they need that the president is acting on behalf of us,” said Kathleen Clyde, an Ohio state representative who recently introduced a version of the bill. “It is problematic that he is the only candidate in 30 or 40 years not to provide that information.”
National: Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any probe related to 2016 presidential campaign | The Washington Post
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he will recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, which would include any Russian interference in the electoral process. Speaking at a hastily called news conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said he was following the recommendation of department ethics officials after an evaluation of the rules and cases in which he might have a conflict. “They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,” Sessions said. He added that he concurred with their assessment and would thus recuse himself from any existing or future investigation involving President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
National: Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking | The New York Times
In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators. American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.
National: Sticking With Trump, Republicans Resist Call for Broader Russian Inquiry | The New York Times
Congressional Republicans, straining to defend the Trump administration amid investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, resisted growing calls on Thursday for a special prosecutor or select congressional committee to review the matter, even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any inquiry. That decision followed a day in which Republicans mostly closed ranks around Mr. Sessions, a well-liked former Senate colleague, amid revelations that he spoke with the Russian ambassador last year, seemingly contradicting testimony from his confirmation hearing in January. Initially, the fallout seemed to spawn fissures among Republicans: Several, including Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine, were quick to call for Mr. Sessions’s recusal, defying party leaders — including President Trump — who had said earlier on Thursday that they saw no reason for it. But by day’s end, consensus appeared to have been restored: Mr. Sessions would step aside in any investigation. And that, Republicans suggested, would be enough, at least for now.
A bipartisan pair of senators has introduced a bill that would require the federal government to do more to help state and local officials combat cyber threats. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Thursday announced that they have reintroduced the State and Local Cyber Protection Act, which would bolster cybersecurity cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and state and local governments. Cybersecurity has attracted increased attention in the wake of Russia’s cyberattacks aimed at influencing the presidential election and other high-profile breaches in the public and private sectors. Officials have particularly expressed concerns about the vulnerability of state systems and infrastructure to attacks.
National: Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian ambassador during Trump campaign | The Guardian
Donald Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign. The Washington Post, citing justice department officials, first reported that Sessions met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak once in September 2016, when US intelligence officials were investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, and once in the summer of that year. It was communications with Kislyak that led to the firing of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in February. A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that the meetings took place, but provided a statement from the attorney general saying they were not related to the election campaign. “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions’ statement said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”