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Gillibrand, Graham propose commission to study election interference

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Friday teamed up with a leading Republican colleague to propose an independent commission to investigate how Russian cyberattacks affected the 2016 election and how such meddling can be prevented in the future.

Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, joined Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in introducing legislation that would establish the National Commission on the Cybersecurity of the United States Election Systems.

The two senators likened their proposed commission to the one that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“There is no credible doubt that Russia attacked our election infrastructure in 2016,” Gillibrand said. “We need a public accounting of how they were able to do it so effectively, and how we can protect our country when Russia or any other nation tries to attack us again."

Graham agreed.

“Hostile governments like Russia don’t believe in democracy,” he said. “They have shown an eagerness to meddle in elections in the United States and other democratic nations. We need to ensure we fully understand the threat they pose and the best practices to protect ourselves from future attacks."

The legislation could win broad support from Democrats and a smaller group of Republicans who have expressed worries about Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, But the legislation also could raise concerns among senators serving on committees already investigating what happened last year.

And it also would create one more complication for President Trump, who has been reluctant to acknowledge that forces tied to the Russian government tried to influence the election on his behalf.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded months ago that the Russian government was tied to the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee. And for months, a special prosecutor and committees on both sides of Capitol Hill have been pursuing separate probes of Russia's attempts to interfere in the U.S. election.

Gillibrand and Graham made clear, though, that their probe would be different. Instead of just looking back at what happened, it would look forward, aiming to ensure that Russia and other foreign powers would never again be able to meddle in a U.S. election.

Without such an effort, a variety of cyberattacks could affect future elections, the senators said. Not only could foreign powers try to influence elections through hacking, but the senators said they also wonder if foreign governments could even meddle with the voter rolls and vote counts.

"The clock is ticking before our next election, and these questions are urgent," Gillibrand said. We need to be able to defend ourselves against threats to our elections, our democracy, and our sacred right to vote.”

Graham, meantime, stressed that Russia is by no means the only nation that could try to interfere with future elections.

"We could face future attacks from North Korea, Iran, China and others who oppose American foreign policy and reject the values we hold dear," Graham said. "This issue should be beyond partisan politics as it strikes at the heart of our democracy. We must take steps to ensure that we protect the integrity of our elections from hostile, outside, and foreign influences.”

Under the proposed legislation, state election authorities and congressional leadership would appoint members of the commission, which would have the power to:

-- Document and describe foreign attempts to interfere with the 2016 election.

-- Identify measures that need to be taken to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities exposed in that study of last year's election.

-- Review foreign cyber interference in elections in other countries in order to better understand how to defend against it happening in the United States.

-- Provide a complete accounting of emerging threats and vulnerabilities to the election system.

-- Issue recommendations for the federal, state and local governments to follow to make elections more secure.

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