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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took to the Senate floor today to request immediate passage of a modified version of his Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act that would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election. Immediately after Sen. Warner requested unanimous consent, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected and thereby blocked the immediate passage of this essential legislation.

Sen. Warner’s request comes on the heels of alarming comments by President Trump, who said on Wednesday that he would not alert the FBI if a foreign government tried to offer damaging information on his 2020 election opponents.

“President Trump's own FBI director and his Director of National Intelligence have said that Russia, or others, will likely be back in 2020 because their tactics in 2016 were both cheap and effective. We're now 17 months before the 2020 elections and personally, we are not prepared,” Sen. Warner said on the floor. “One of my colleagues on the other side said they don't want to re-litigate 2016. There will be other times and places to further litigate whatever happened in 2016. In terms of today, I don't want to either. I just want to make sure that we are safe from foreign intervention in 2020.”

He continued, “The mantra at our airports that the TSA and Homeland Security always try to promote is, ‘if you see something, say something.’ This is not an undue burden on our traveling public, and because of that involvement, I think airports are safer. Shouldn't we have the same de minimis standard to protect the integrity of our election system? If you see something, say something. All my legislation is requiring is if there is indications that agents of foreign governments are trying to intervene in our elections, tell law enforcement, tell the FBI.”

Sen. Warner also stressed that his legislation would not interfere with any official government activities, and urged his colleagues to work together to pass bipartisan election security legislation and to put guardrails on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to prevent them from being used by bad actors for the widespread dissemination of misinformation.

 

Below are Sen. Warner’s floor remarks as originally prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, in a moment I will ask unanimous consent for the Senate to take up and pass by bill, the FIRE Act, S.1562, as amended. But before I do that, I want to address the President’s recent comments regarding foreign election interference.

We all take an oath when we get sworn into these jobs to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic. Our own political ambitions, our partisan affiliations — that all should take a back seat to defending our democracy.

Unfortunately, this President doesn’t see it that way. His recent comments that he would once again welcome dirt on an opponent from a foreign government fly in the face of that oath.

Let me be clear. If a foreign adversary attempts to offer assistance to your campaign, you have a moral obligation to call the FBI.

And if the President, or his son-in-law, or other members of his campaign can't be trusted to do the right thing and report their foreign contacts, then we need to make it a legal requirement. That’s what this amendment is all about.

Mr. President, I am not here to re-litigate the 2016 election or second-guess the Special Counsel’s findings. This is a question of how we defend our democracy on a going-forward basis.

But I do want to recall the facts of what we learned through the Mueller investigation, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan investigation.

After two years of investigating, we now know that the Trump Campaign had a series of inappropriate and unreported contacts with the Russian government and its proxies, who were part of the Kremlin’s election interference efforts.

This should have come to light far sooner, but the Trump Campaign intentionally hid these contacts from the American people and law enforcement.

Another thing we learned through the investigation is that when then-candidate Trump made his infamous “Russia, if you’re listening” plea — on that very same day, Russian operatives began sending illegal phishing emails to members of his opponent’s campaign.

Mr. Trump’s comments this week are not trivial. These are the words of the President of the United States, spoken in the Oval Office. That still means something to the world.

And frankly, what it means here is that this President is once again giving Russia and other bad actors the greenlight to interfere in the 2020 elections.

This sends a message to the American people and foreign governments that this conduct is acceptable. Not only is this morally wrong, it also undermines the crucial counterintelligence work of our federal law enforcement agencies.

Recently, FBI Director Chris Wray testified that such attempts to offer assistance or “dirt” would be “something that the FBI would want to know about.”

He’s right. Because, the truth is, when a foreign adversary like Russia is peddling dirt on an American candidate, they are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re trying to undermine our democracy, and the FBI is our first line of defense against that threat.

Mr. President, that is what this amendment is about — safeguarding our democracy from those who wish us harm. I ask my colleagues to take a step back, take off our Republican and Democratic hats for a minute, and support this amendment.

My bill, the FIRE Act — creates a first-of-its-kind requirement to make sure that foreign contacts during a presidential election are promptly reported to the FBI and FEC.

It would serve a vital intelligence need and make sure that all individuals involved in a presidential campaign understand both the existing law on foreign contributions and their affirmative obligation to report suspicious foreign contacts.  

The FIRE Act is not about prohibiting innocent contacts or the exercise of First Amendment rights. It is about restoring Americans’ trust in the democratic process. 

If a candidate is receiving or welcoming help from the Kremlin, I think the American people should have a right to know that before they head to the polls.

And in a world where campaigns are a target for foreign espionage, I think our law enforcement and counter-intelligence professionals should have the tools they need to protect the integrity of our presidential elections.

The Senate must take a stand against foreign attacks on the democratic process.  This is not a Republican or Democratic issue; it is an issue of America’s national security.

And I hope the Senate can come together at this moment to send a clear message that we will defend our Democracy, even if this President won’t.

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Washington, D.C. – As Congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to call on Leader McConnell to bring election security legislation up for a vote on the Senate floor, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, delivers this week’s Weekly Democratic Address. In the address, Warner highlights the importance of securing our elections and explains why it is critical that the Senate vote on bipartisan election security legislation. In closing, he emphasizes that the Senate must act on this issue in order to secure the 2020 elections, and cannot allow critical, bipartisan bills to protect our democracy to die in Leader McConnell’s legislative graveyard.

The Weekly Democratic Address is available in both AUDIO AND VIDEO FORMAT. You may download the audio of the address HERE and the video of the address HERE.

Senator Warner’s remarks as delivered follow:

“Hi, I’m Senator Mark Warner. I’m proud to represent Virginia in the United States Senate. I also serve as Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting the only bipartisan investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election.

“Our intelligence community, the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller have all concluded that Russia mounted an unprecedented attack on our democratic process. Russian intelligence conducted hacking operations against Democratic targets and then released the stolen documents to influence the election. Using an army of Internet trolls, Russia flooded social media with fake news and propaganda designed to sow discord and divide Americans through our news feeds.

“We also know that, as part of its interference campaign, the Kremlin also targeted election infrastructure in all 50 states. The Intelligence Community’s Assessment in January 2017 concluded that Russia secured and maintained access to multiple elements of U.S. state and local electoral boards. For example, in Illinois, Russian hackers were able to penetrate a voter registration database and access 90,000 voter registration records. Using spearphishing emails, Russia was able to access the network of at least one county in Florida. Now, there is no evidence that Russians were successful in changing vote totals in 2016 or in 2018 – but we can certainly expect them to try again in 2020.

“While the Department of Homeland Security has improved information-sharing with states and Congress has allocated some additional funding for election security, there is still more work to do to secure local election equipment ahead of the presidential election.

“In 2016, Russia exploited platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to manipulate and divide Americans, to smear Hillary Clinton, and to aid Donald Trump. As we enter another presidential election cycle susceptible to foreign interference, Congress needs to put in place some commonsense guardrails on social media. We should start with the bipartisan Honest Ads Act, which I introduced, which would prevent foreign actors from purchasing online political ads, and bring much-needed transparency to the online ad ecosystem.

“There is already a bill to protect our elections systems that has strong bipartisan support. The Secure Elections Act from the last session of Congress would establish some common-sense measures to ensure the sanctity of the ballot-box.

“It would provide states with money to replace old, insecure voting machines that don’t leave a paper trail, and make sure that elections can be audited, so that Americans can have confidence in the results. It would also take several steps to improve sharing about threat information between the Department of Homeland Security, and states that administer the vote. And it would require election agencies to promptly report suspected cybersecurity incidents to proper state and federal authorities.

“The truth is the Secure Elections Act that was introduced last session were brought to the floor today for a vote, it would pass overwhelmingly. But the White House and Senate Republican leaders have been blocking a vote.

“Unfortunately, that’s just part of a pattern with a White House and a President that has shown no interest in tackling this problem. According to reports, the former Secretary of Homeland Security was instructed not to even raise the issue of election security with the President, and when she tried to convene a Cabinet-level meeting ahead of the 2018 midterms, the White House chief of staff nixed the idea.

“What happened in 2016 will happen again in 2020 if we are not prepared. In the face of White House inaction to secure the vote, Congress must work together to protect our democracy and reassure Americans that their votes will be counted in 2020. We cannot let election security become another tombstone in the Republican Senate’s legislative graveyard.”

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