Trump faces new test with midterm election interference report

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE is about to be told whether the U.S. intelligence community believes foreign interference took place during last month’s midterm elections.

Under an executive order signed by Trump earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will deliver an assessment on election security to the White House on Friday, marking the second time officials will have determined whether there was foreign meddling in a U.S. general election.

If officials find that interference took place — a prediction already being made by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — it will pose a major test for Trump, who has been criticized for not doing enough to combat meddling from U.S. adversaries.

ADVERTISEMENT“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Russia’s influence efforts are ongoing,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Georgia officials launch investigation after election day chaos | Senate report finds Chinese telecom groups operated in US without proper oversight Republican Senators ask FCC to ‘clearly define’ when social media platforms should receive liability protections Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash  MORE (R-Fla.) said Wednesday. “They view it as part of their broader strategy, it’s a key part of their tactics they use around the world.”

“I’ll wait for the DNI to issue their report on the findings, but I think you’ll find that they were less successful but nonetheless active,” he added.

A spokesperson for DNI confirmed to The Hill that the intelligence community will submit its assessment on election interference to the White House on Friday. But it’s not clear whether the report will be made public. 

There are hints as to what officials will conclude.

Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMilley discussed resigning from post after Trump photo-op: report Hundreds of West Point alumni call out Esper over military’s role in protests OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill MORE said this month that Russia had interfered in the midterm elections, which returned Democrats to the majority in the House for the first time in eight years.

And shortly before Election Day, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against a Russian national for her alleged role in operating an influence campaign against U.S. elections, including the midterms.

Lawmakers said this week that they believe that Russia also meddled in the midterms, but not to the extent that it was involved in the 2016 presidential election.

“Let’s see what they report happened, let’s see how resilient we were and then we’ll decide what next steps are,” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Senate panel passes amendment to bar using troops against protesters Defense bill turns into proxy battle over Floyd protests MORE (Va.), the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2016.

He noted that Congress appropriated $380 million for election security earlier this year, allowing states to add resources aimed at securing their voting systems.

But that funding arrived too late for some states to use it before the midterms.

ADVERTISEMENTCongress also failed to pass any election security legislation beyond that additional funding, meaning federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and state officials ended up taking the lead on trying to secure election systems.

The DNI assessment comes as the Trump administration continues to hand down penalties for attempted election interference in 2016. The Treasury Department on Wednesday announced sanctions against nine Russian military officers for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election.

But for some, those punitive steps are too little and too late.

Democrats and even some Republicans have been critical of Trump, saying he hasn’t done enough to combat election interference by Russia.

He signed an executive order this year requiring the investigation into potential foreign election interference, opening the door for sanctions against those entities who engaged in it, but lawmakers have said they will continue to push their own measures, arguing that the administration’s moves don’t go far enough.

After the DNI report is sent to the White House, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The ‘accidental director’ on the front line of the fight for election security MORE will have 45 days to write their own reports determining the extent of the interference.

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight The Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen MORE will also be asked to determine if any sanctions are appropriate and, if so, to implement them.

The Treasury Department is permitted but not required to then submit a final report to Congress, where lawmakers could take action like they did last year when they authorized sanctions against Russia for its 2016 interference.

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However, Democrats this week were hesitant to say exactly what actions they would take if Russia is found to have again meddled in the 2018 midterms, saying they want to read the assessment before considering any retaliatory actions. 

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Hillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos MORE, (D-Mich.), the incoming ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that while actions need to be taken against Russia if interference took place, Congress also has to pass a bill to help state officials keep their voting systems secure.

“It depends on what comes out on the report, but I think that there’s no question that Russians have been actively involved in attempts to influence elections,” Peters said. “We need to continue to be vigilant and safeguard the state apparatus for elections, as well as some of the information campaigns that Russians are engaged in.”

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