The Washington Post: Why is the Russian meddling in 2016 such a big secret? I’m not allowed to say.
In May, other members of Florida’s congressional delegation and I were briefed for 90 minutes in the U.S. Capitol by officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. I sought the briefing after then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report showed Russia had probed and even pierced election networks in Florida, among the most closely contested states in U.S. politics. Although our briefers supplied new details, much remained unknown. What I do know, I can’t talk about. Why that’s the case is itself a mystery.
It’s self-defeating to be given incomplete information and then be required to remain silent about the few facts we do know. If we can’t form a clear picture of past election interference efforts, we won’t learn how best to fend off future attacks.
Why have the details of this foreign attack on our democracy been shrouded in secrecy? For the most part, it’s not the need to protect intelligence sources and methods. Rather, it’s that federal law enforcement agencies view local election officials whose networks were targeted as victims entitled to confidentiality. I believe the victims are the voters, who deserve to know what happened and what their leaders are doing to prevent it from happening again. The half-release of information has one clear side effect; it reduces the public’s faith in our system, which could depress voter turnout. That would please Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia will likely use similar tactics in 2020 — to influence whom Americans vote for, to make it harder for registered voters to cast ballots and even to prevent an accurate vote count. While Russia assisted a Republican in 2016, it could aid a Democrat in the future. Moscow’s loyalty is to itself, not any U.S. political party. To defend our democracy, U.S. officials must put America first, a point lost on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has declined to take up House-passed bills to secure our elections.
I’ve filed a bipartisan bill to require Congress, local officials and affected voters to be swiftly informed if an adversary infiltrates our election system and the federal government believes voter information could be affected. Three years is too long to wait. With 29 electoral college votes and a history of razor-thin election margins, Florida will be the linchpin of any foreign effort to sway next year’s vote. To protect the Sunshine State, and our democracy, more sunshine is needed.
This op-ed was originally published by The Washington Post.