HOUSE JUDICIARY DEMOCRATS CALL FOR EMERGENCY HEARINGS AFTER ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL REVEALS RUSSIA HACKED U.S. VOTER ROLLS IN 2016

Feb 8, 2018 Issues: Trump, Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led Democratic Members of the House Judiciary Committee in sending a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) calling for immediate hearings examining the U.S. election infrastructure after a senior U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official revealed that Russia hacked U.S. voter rolls. The letter asks the Majority for emergency hearings to look into potential vulnerabilities of our election infrastructure, foreign threats posed, and to examine what steps the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the State Department may or may not be taking to ensure the integrity of future state and federal elections.

In their letter, the Members wrote, “It is our Committee’s responsibility to examine the vulnerabilities and risks facing our election processes and infrastructure in order to protect the right to vote for every American—a right that includes not just equal voting rights and access to the polls, but also confidence in the accuracy and security of our election systems.  For these reasons, we urge you to hold immediate hearings on this fundamental issue.”

Yesterday, DHS confirmed that not only did the Russians attempt to hack at least 21 states, but they were successful in actually penetrating some of those systems. CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both admitted the Russians never ceased their cyber operations from 2016 and will continue their attacks during the 2018 mid-term elections.  Secretary Tillerson seems to believe that there is nothing the government can do to curb these attacks, although experts and lawmakers agree that sanctions and deterrence would help to hold the Russian government accountable.

With the first primary election in March 2018, Judiciary Republicans have taken no action to address the ongoing threat Russia poses to the U.S. federal election systems—despite pledging to do so when adopting the Committee’s oversight plan in February 2017. 

Today’s letter was signed by every Democrat on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, including: Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), David Cicilline (D-RI), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Val Demings (D-FL).

Full text of today’s letter is available here and below.

February 8, 2018

 

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte

Chairman

House Judiciary Committee

2138 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Chairman Goodlatte:

We write to request that the Committee hold immediate hearings to examine vulnerabilities in our election infrastructure, threats posed to that infrastructure by foreign actors, and what steps the Trump Administration may or may not be taking to ensure the integrity of our state and federal elections. We believe the threat is urgent.  The leadership of the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State should come before our Committee to inform us of their plans to protect the integrity of our election systems.

In February of 2017, you offered an amendment to our oversight plan that, as subsequently amended by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI), stated our intention to conduct oversight into allegations of foreign interference with federal elections.[1]  Unfortunately, since then, we have not held a single hearing on the topic.

We have, however, heard alarming testimony on this front from the leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI. Other high ranking Administration officials have also made similar statements.  CIA Director Pompeo and Secretary of State Tillerson both recently confirmed that Russia is already targeting the 2018 elections.  Yesterday, Jeanette Manfra, DHS’s leading cybersecurity official, admitted that the Russian government penetrated our election systems in 2016.[2]  Even former President George W. Bush has acknowledged that there is “pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled” in the last election.[3]

To be clear, every official to speak on this topic so far—including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray—has stood by the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election.  The Department of Homeland Security has recognized the gravity of the threat and classified America’s election infrastructure as critical infrastructure under the Critical Infrastructures Protection Act of 2001.  The FBI has since created a “Foreign Influence Election Taskforce” to help prepare for any future attacks.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice appears to have taken little—if any—action to secure our election systems going forward.  When he appeared before our Committee, Attorney General Sessions was asked if the Department is at least reviewing the laws on the books to see what additional authority he might need to secure our election infrastructure.  He gave a completely unsatisfactory answer: “We have discussed those matters, but no completion has been done. ... We are not anywhere near where I would like us to be, yet.”  He later agreed he had not, in fact, ordered any review of relevant federal law[4]—ignoring President Trump’s executive order to strengthen federal networks and infrastructure.[5]  Although the Attorney General promised our members a briefing on the topic, but that was more than nine weeks ago. The Department of Justice has not yet responded to the request we sent him on December 1, 2017.[6]

We cannot afford to ignore the mounting evidence of a coordinated effort to undermine the most basic and essential aspects of democratic process.  In addition to the alarming disclosures that came to light this week: 

§  The Department of Homeland Security notified at least 21 states that the Russian government targeted and, in some cases, successfully penetrated their election infrastructure.[7]

§  Illinois officials found 90,000 voter files were stolen—more than 75,000 containing personal data such as driver’s license and social security numbers.  Officials found evidence of an additional attempt to download the state’s entire voter roll of 15 million people.[8]

§  Foreign actors are believed to have infiltrated Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Arizona’s electoral systems, as well as an election software/device provider.[9]

§  Sensitive data on Georgia’s 6.7 million voters, passwords used by county officials to access elections management files, and the critical e-pollbooks used to verify registered votes on Election Day were exposed by significant election infrastructure security gaps.[10]  In addition, key electronic voter logs were stolen prior to the Georgia special election[11] and entire election servers had their data wiped clean.[12]

§  The Russian cutout known as “Fancy Bear,” which was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, continues to target political organizations in various countries—including the U.S. Senate, in a recently reported operation.[13]

§  Computer security experts have uncovered potential points of infiltration of the “voting infrastructure at any point in the supply chain process [allowing for] the ability to synchronize and inflict large-scale damage” particular in foreign-manufactured parts.[14]

§  A study found consolidation in the voting machine and software industry—where the number of voting machine companies has dropped from nineteen to three[15]—and the resulting market structure, coupled with ineffective government action, has limited growth, stagnated innovation, and contributed to a crisis in America’s election technology sector.[16]

It is our Committee’s responsibility to examine the vulnerabilities and risks facing our election processes and infrastructure in order to protect the right to vote for every American—a right that includes not just equal voting rights and access to the polls, but also confidence in the accuracy and security of our election systems. 

For these reasons, we urge you to hold immediate hearings on this fundamental issue.

BACKGROUND:

On January 9, 2018, House Democratic Ranking Members Eliot Engel, Maxine Waters, Jerrold Nadler, Bennie Thompson, Elijah Cummings and Robert Brady sent a letter to Speaker Ryan today urging House Republicans to join Democrats to fully investigate and address Russia’s threat to our democracy and national security.  

On December 1, 2017, the Democratic Members of the House Committee on the Judiciary wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request a briefing on any efforts by the Department of Justice to secure the next cycle of federal elections. To date there has been no response.

At the Committee’s oversight hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Rep. Brad Schneider asked the Attorney General about the efforts of the Department to protect our elections from foreign interference in the future.  Attorney General Sessions responded: “I have not followed through to see where we are on that.”

The House Committee on the Judiciary has not held a single hearing on efforts by the Trump Administration and its Republican supporters in Congress to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

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[1] Markup of Authorization and Oversight Plan; H.R. 985; H.R. 906, before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, Feb. 15, 2017 (statement of Chairman Robert Goodlatte).

[2] Doug Stanglin, Russia already meddling in U.S. midterm elections, Tillerson says, USA Today, Feb. 7, 2018; Cynthia McFadden et al., Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, says top U.S. official, NBC, Feb. 7, 2018.

[3] Kim Hjelmgaard, George W. Bush: “Clear Evidence Russians meddled” in election, USA Today, Feb. 8, 2018.

[4] Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice, before the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, Nov. 17, 2017.

[5] Exec. Order No. 13800 (May 11, 2017), requires Cabinet members to complete reviews of their departments’ effectiveness at detecting hacking by June 23, 2017.

[6] Letter from Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, et al., to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Dec. 1, 2017.

[7] Geoff Mulvihill & Jake Pearson, Federal government notifies 21 states of election hacking, Wash. Post, Sept. 23, 2017; Cynthia McFadden et al., Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, says top U.S. official, NBC, Feb. 7, 2018.

[8] Massimo Calabresi, Inside the Secret Plan to Stop Vladimir Putin’s U.S. Election Plot, Time, July 20, 2017.

[9] Id. (Recorded IP fingerprints pointed to Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, cyber arms of the GRU (Russian military intelligence), as the culprits).  A leaked NSA document shows that Russian hackers targeted and compromised a Florida-based voting-equipment vendor and used the stolen information to target state election officials.  National Security Agency, Russia/Cybersecurity: Main Intelligence Directorate Cyber Actors *** Target U.S. Companies and Local U.S. Government Officials Using Voter Registration-Themed Emails, Spoof Election-Related Products and Services, Research Absentee Ballot Email Addresses; August to November 2016 (2017).

[10] Kim Zetter, Will the Georgia Special election Get Hacked?, Politico Mag., June 14, 2017.

[11] Christopher Wallace, New Details Emerge in Theft of Georgia Voting Machines, Fox News, Apr. 18, 2017.

[12] Frank Bajak, Georgia Election Server Wiped After Suit Filed, AP News, Oct. 27 2017.

[13] Feike Hacquebord, Updated on Pawn Storm: New Targets and Politically Motivated Campaigns, Trend Micro, Jan. 12, 2018; Natasha Bertrand, Russian hackers are laying the groundwork to spy on the US Senate, cybersecurity firm says, Bus. Insider, Jan. 12, 2018.

[14] Matt Blaze et al., DEFCON25, Voting Machine Hacking Village, Report on Cyber Vulnerabilities in U.S. Election Equipment, Databases, and Infrastructure (Sept. 2017).

[15] John R. Patrick, Election Attitude: How Internet Voting Leads to a Stronger Democracy (2016).

[16] U. Penn, Wharton Pub. Pol’y Initiative, The Business of Voting: Market Structure and Innovation in the Election Technology Industry (2017).