WASHINGTON, D.C. — A day before Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and his Democratic colleagues sought to turn up the heat on their colleagues to improve election security.
“The nation needs to be woken about this problem,” Blumenthal said during Tuesday’s press conference.
Mueller is scheduled to testify at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee and then at noon before the House Intelligence Committee. Questions in the first three-hour session will largely focus on obstruction of justice, while the second two-hour session will focus on Russian interference with the 2016 election.
On Tuesday, Blumenthal was joined by Senators Mark Warner, Amy Klobuchar, Ron Wyden, Ben Cardin, and Rep. John Sarbanes in talking about a number of House-passed bills and bipartisan Senate proposals to secure elections systems ahead of the 2020 election.
None of those proposals have made it to the floor of the Senate for a vote – a fact that Blumenthal and others placed squarely on the shoulders of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“McConnell seems to take pride in being called the grim reaper, killing legislation,” Blumenthal said. “In this case he is a grim reaper to democracy.”
Blumenthal said a popular phrase in Washington is, “what do the Russians have on Donald Trump?” He said some may soon be asking, “what do the Russians have on Mitch McConnell?,” because McConnell refuses to allow any votes on election security measures.
Blumenthal warned that the Senate and House not taking stronger election security measures would produce dire consequences. He said the interference in the 2016 election “would look like a dress rehearsal” compared to the type of interference that the United States will face in the 2020 presidential election.
Furthermore, Blumenthal said, that interference would likely be coming from many more countries than Russia. He ticked off Iran as a likely country that would have an interest in meddling in American national politics in 2020.
“It’s going to be a shooting range,” Blumenthal predicted, if stronger legislative action to protect elections isn’t undertaken.
Blumenthal also expressed concern about the proliferation of social media since the 2016 election to influence voters.
He said the internet gives those who are looking outside the country to influence American political elections the ability “to amplify and magnify purposely false messages by the use of social media forums.”
Mueller’s testimony comes nearly four months after he completed his investigation, nearly three months after the government released a redacted version of his report, and nearly two months after he spoke publicly about his findings.
House Democrats subpoenaed Mueller in June in an effort to force him to answer questions before key committees. Despite Mueller’s reluctance, negotiations ensued, and the sides eventually struck a deal for the testimony that will take place Wednesday.
Mueller is on record as stating that “any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report” — that is, he might try to answer every question by simply restating what his report says, or declining to answer.
The Justice Department also sent Mueller a letter urging him to stick to the report itself, and even claiming that talking about internal investigative decisions in more detail could fall under executive privilege.
Blumenthal and others who held Tuesday’s press conference said the timing of it was deliberate. They said it is up to them to continue to pressure Republican politicians to push for election security votes on bills while at the same time trying to convince the public about the importance of the issue.