Senate report warns of ongoing election threat as Republicans block security bills

Posted at 12:38 PM, Jul 26, 2019

(CNN) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday released a wide-ranging report that detailed Russia's attempts to hack US election infrastructure during the 2016 election, urging states and the federal government to do more to prevent election cyberattacks in the future.

The report included a host of recommendations to both the federal and state governments, including the use of paper ballots to provide a paper trail for votes and better communication between state governments and the Department of Homeland Security.

Thursday's release comes as Senate Democrats continue to slam their Republican colleagues and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for preventing a vote on several pieces of election security legislation.

Republicans in the Senate have twice in 24 hours blocked the advancement of bills aimed at strengthening election security just hours after former special counsel Robert Mueller warned of the continued threat that foreign powers are interfering in US elections.

The 67-page bipartisan report concluded that the Russian government "directed extensive activity against US election infrastructure" from 2014 through 2017, and that the Russian efforts "exploited the seams" between the federal authorities and states. It also found that DHS and FBI warnings to the states in 2016 were insufficient.

The report also found that all 50 states were likely targeted.

"Based on what the IC knows about Russia's operating procedures and intentions more broadly, the IC assesses that Russia's activities against U.S. election infrastructure likely sought to further their overarching goal; undermining the integrity of elections and American confidence in democracy," it states.

But those activities did not appear to include attempts to manipulate vote tallies on election day.

"The committee found no evidence of Russian actors attempting to manipulate vote tallies on Election Day, though again the Committee and IC's insight into this is limited," the report says.

Findings echo Mueller's warnings

The committee's findings and recommendations echo the warnings that came one day earlier from Mueller that the Russians and other foreign governments will continue to meddle in US elections.

"It wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign," Mueller said.

Senate Democrats are likely to point to the report as reason for the Senate to pass election security legislation. Democrats in recent days have repeatedly brought election security bills to the floor to urge a vote, but they have been blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans, who have argued the bills are partisan.

"In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure," Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said in a statement. "It is my hope that the Senate Intelligence Committee's bipartisan report will provide the American people with valuable insight into the election security threats still facing our nation and the ways we can address them."

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters Thursday that he was hopeful the report would change the minds of Senate Republicans who have blocked action on election security to date.

"I hope after this bipartisan report comes out and joins the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence, Special Prosecutor Mueller, that folks will reconsider and we can take the appropriate steps necessary to make sure that when Americans go to vote for whomever in 2020 for president that their votes will be counted fairly," he said.

First of five reports

The report on election security is the first of five that the Senate Intelligence Committee plans to publish as part of its two-year investigation into Russian election interference. The committee is in the final stages of that investigation, which has remained a bipartisan effort even amid the partisan fighting on Capitol Hill over the Russia probes and collusion.

The panel is also planning to release reports on the intelligence community's assessment of Russia's 2016 interference, the Obama administration's response, the role of social media disinformation campaigns and then Russian contacts with the Trump campaign — which will be the trickiest of all to reach a bipartisan consensus.

While the report released Thursday was bipartisan, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden included a "minority views" dissent taking issue with the report's recommendation that states remain in control of elections.

"The defense of US national security against a highly sophisticated foreign government cannot be left to state and county officials. For that reason, I cannot support a report whose top recommendation is to 'reinforce [ ] state's primacy in running elections,'" Wyden wrote. "If there was ever a moment when Congress needed to exercise its clear constitutional authorities to regulate elections, this is it."

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