Moscow tampered with America’s presidential election. This included attempts to hack directly into the nation’s electoral systems. And those efforts are continuing.
The U.S. intelligence community reached this conclusion months ago, finding that the president has continually dismissed with tweets about the “Russia hoax.”
But now these also are the conclusions of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee that for the past nine months has been looking into the rumors, speculation and facts around what occurred leading up the Nov. 8 election. “What I will confirm is that the Russian intelligence service is determined (and) clever,” said committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, in announcing its preliminary findings last week. “And I recommend that every campaign and every election official take this very seriously.”
Although the committee, led by Burr and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, has included interviews with those involved in Donald Trump’s campaign, what they have not concluded is whether collusion occurred.
Nonetheless, Trump criticized the findings last week with another tweet: “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”
In fact, this is a key aspect of the committee’s expanded investigation. The Senate panel has asked executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify at a Nov. 1 public hearing about Russia’s use of fake news, ads and bogus web pages to sway public opinion.
The intelligence community has concluded that Moscow’s intent was to steer the election in Trump’s favor and that Trump associates were aware of what was happening. But that, in and of itself, does not mean the Trump campaign assisted Moscow with its meddling.
All of this merely demonstrates that there is more work for the committee to do, and thankfully Warner and Burr have given no sign of slowing down. The same can be said of the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who also is looking into the role of individuals and companies with ties to the Kremlin using social media to spread fake news. In addition, Mueller has issued grand jury subpoenas for documents and testimony related to a June 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.
But federal officials, as well as state and local election authorities, can ill afford to wait for the completion of these investigations to take action to ensure that the days of Russian meddling in U.S. elections are over.
On Sept. 22, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials contacted elections officials in 21 states to warn them that hackers, most likely with connections to Russia, had targeted state elections systems. In Illinois, information from as many as 200,000 registered voters had been swiped.
Among the states targeted was California. But California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has strongly denied that hackers had scanned the state’s election networks. He argued these cyberspies were targeting a different agency.
Either way, state and federal officials need to get on the same page and soon and make clear how they plan to push back against this subterfuge. Voters shouldn’t have to worry that their personal information will be compromised if they engage in something as fundamental to a democracy as casting a vote. Voters also need to have confidence that their election systems are tamper-proof.