Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN
(CNN) — The biggest takeaway from Robert Mueller‘s appearances on Capitol Hill is not that Donald Trump may have obstructed justice, although that’s what most people continue to argue about.
It’s that Russians are still interfering in US elections.
“They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller told lawmakers of Russian interference. Earlier he’d said how that aspect of his investigation has been underplayed will have a long-term affect on the US.
In his report, the former special counsel disclosed that Russian hackers compromised local election systems of two Florida counties in 2016, a development later confirmed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, although he said no votes were changed. And while Mueller did not bring conspiracy charges, it’s been well documented that Russians in 2016 were doing their best to help Trump, not Clinton, win.
Yet despite Mueller’s testimony, the special counsel report and alarming statements from elsewhere in Washington, public urgency on addressing Russian interference for the 2020 election appears lacking.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said Wednesday it needs to be stopped.
“Russians massively intervened in 2016 and they are prepared to do so again in voting that is set to begin a mere eight months from now,” he said, pointing out the one thing the Mueller report makes absolutely clear. “(The) President seems to welcome the help again,” Schiff alleged, adding, “And so we must make all efforts to harden our elections infrastructure, to ensure there is a paper trail for all voting, to deter the Russians from meddling, to discover it when they do, to disrupt it and make them pay.”
It’s not just Democrats saying the Russians want to meddle again. FBI Director Christopher Wray said it during his own testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but he said the bureau has the problem in hand.
“The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections through the foreign influence,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he added they’re still at it. “Well, my view is until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough.”
He said that the FBI handles efforts to deter foreign influence and they don’t need any new laws to help.
Trump joked with Russian President Vladimir Putin this year about it.
“Don’t meddle in the election, please,”he said, smirking, when the two met on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting in Japan in June.
Wray argued the government has significant resources devoted to combating foreign influence, but couldn’t think of anything else they need.
Democrats say the spreading of false information and other efforts by Russians to interfere are a massive issue. While leaders in the party are split over whether to pursue impeachment hearings against Trump for obstructing justice, they are united behind a new proposal to secure elections.
And there is bipartisan support for efforts to make campaign ads more truthful and to require citizens to report offers of election help for foreign actors.
But these proposals seem to be going absolutely nowhere at the moment.
That’s because the Republicans in the Senate who control what’s voted on in that chamber, don’t think any such bill is necessary. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell feels elections should be controlled and safeguarded at the local level rather than managed by Washington, according to a recent CNN report on his thinking.
Democratic senators came to the floor shortly after 6 p.m. ET to ask for unanimous consent to pass three different election security bills they have authored, two of which would require campaigns to report to federal authorities any attempts by foreign entities to interfere in US elections, and a third aimed at protecting from hackers the personal accounts and devices of senators and some staffers.
In keeping with GOP arguments that Congress has already responded to election security needs for the upcoming election, Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi objected to each unanimous consent request.
Democrats, after Mueller’s testimony, will redouble their efforts to get some action from McConnell, but he’s already argued that Congress gave new election security money to states after 2016.
“The Democrats would like to nationalize everything,” McConnell said on Fox News in June. “They want the federal government to take over the election process because they think that would somehow benefit them.”
That election security has taken on such a partisan tinge might be some of the lasting effect on US democracy that Mueller is talking about.
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