2018 midterms: President Trump meets with security aides as critics demand federal election plan

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump met privately Friday with his National Security Council on election security, as critics demanded a federal plan to thwart Russian cyberattacks on the November midterms.

Trump administration officials say they worry the Russians will seek to disrupt November’s voting. Some lawmakers said the administration is ignoring the threat of the kinds of interference the Russians employed in 2016 to benefit Trump.

Russian election actions, including the hacking of Democratic Party officials and pushing fake news about 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, are the subjects of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. His prosecutors are also looking at possible links between Russian hackers and the Trump campaign, though the president has denied collusion.

Earlier this week, Trump himself said he is concerned that Russia will try to interfere in the November elections – in favor of Democrats.

Democrats scoffed at that notion, citing indictments alleging the Russians directed an election sabotage plan in 2016 designed to benefit Trump.

“We are skeptical that the President’s newfound interest in election security is anything more than cheap talk and desperate damage control, especially as he continues to make ludicrous claims that up is down and black is white,” a group of House Democrats said in statement Friday.

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As the federal government ponders a national plan, some states are taking action on their own.

State election officials have long raised concerns about the threat of cyberattacks, taking their own steps to protect election data by encrypting their systems and asking the Department of Homeland Security to check their systems for vulnerabilities.

They also asked Congress to help fund those efforts.

Earlier this month, the Election Assistance Commission distributed $348 million of $380 million to states to help protect against cyberthreats to the midterms. Congress approved the funding earlier this year.

The commission quickly distributed the funds so states could better prepare. Many states plan to hire cybersecurity experts and update voter registration systems, while some want to buy new equipment.

“I think it will help,” Tom Hicks, chairman of the commission, said of the funds. “They’re using a ton of money for upgrading and hardening systems … The next federal election will be right around the corner. I think this is good timing for them.”

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, co-chair of the National Association of Secretaries of States Elections Committee, said cybersecurity is a priority for its members.

Gorbea, who recently testified before Congress, said states will need ongoing funds from the federal government.

“We’re up against nation-states,” Gorbea told USA TODAY Tuesday. “This is not as simple as going out and buying voting machines. This is much more than that.”

“We just need to continue to raise this issue as an ongoing issue and not let it just die down after the midterms,” she said.

Congress has also stepped up its efforts, including more training for lawmakers and staffers.

 

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