With elections near, US strains to curb Russia meddling


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

The Russians are going to try it again. Even President Donald Trump’s intelligence chiefs say so. But with congressional primaries just two weeks away, the U.S. has done little to aggressively combat the kinds of Russian election meddling that was recently unmasked in federal court.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s surprise indictment last week in his wide-ranging Russia investigation sounded a fresh alarm to the U.S. government, social media companies and state election officials who are readying for the 2018 midterms. Here’s what’s being done – or not – in the wake of Mueller’s revelations:

IN CONGRESS

Mueller’s indictment charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through a social media propaganda effort that included online ad purchases using U.S. aliases and politicking on U.S. soil. Congressional committees held hearings on the social media attacks last fall, but legislation to require technology companies to enhance openness for online political ads has stalled amid GOP concerns of overregulation.

None of the congressional committees investigating the interference – both the social media efforts and attempted Russian hacking of state election systems – have yet proposed policy changes to prevent it in the future. Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., has said he wants to issue a report on security findings and legislative recommendations before the primaries begin, but it’s unclear if the panel will do so before Texas’ March 5 voting.

THE STATES

Efforts to increase election security have been slow amid tensions between the federal government and the states. The Department of Homeland Security offered assistance to state and local election officials after Russian agents targeted election systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 general election, but records show only 14 states have requested risk assessments and 30 have asked for remote cyber scans of their networks.

THE WHITE HOUSE

The White House has sent few signals on what should be done to combat the meddling as voters try to make sense of how it might affect them. Trump has said little on the severity of the threat or how it could be overcome, instead often focusing on whether he is a target of Mueller’s investigation or insisting that any meddling would not have changed the results of the election.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump on Tuesday, saying the president “hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle, what he’s saying is it didn’t have an impact, and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign.”

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