NOEL KING, HOST:
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress yesterday, and he said that Russian interference in U.S. elections is still a real threat. Listen to this exchange between Mueller and Will Hurd, a Republican congressman from Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WILL HURD: In your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this again?
ROBERT MUELLER: Oh, it wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.
KING: NPR's Tim Mak watched the hearings. He's been following all of this. Hey, Tim.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.
KING: So what else did Mueller say about foreign interference in our elections?
MAK: Yeah, Mueller was really clear about how pressing of an issue this is and has been for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. As we heard a little bit earlier, he said that the Russians engaged in disinformation and are engaging in disinformation right now as we sit here. But he also said that other foreign actors, other foreign countries are starting their own operations and getting involved in this space, as well.
Disinformation is a low-cost, high-reward method for some of these malicious actors, and they can spread a lot of mayhem in the American democratic process. And Mueller says he fully expects that the Russian government will take part in election interference again in 2020.
KING: Tim, did he say what any of the other countries were that might interfere in our elections?
MAK: He didn't get into that. That would kind of get into intelligence material and classified information, so he didn't specifically mention any countries. But we have a general good sense about some of the actors who have started to get into this space, such as Iran or North Korea.
KING: OK, and did Mueller then offer any suggestions to Congress about what it should do about this?
MAK: Yeah, Mueller sees himself as a prosecutor and not a legislator, so he was kind of tight-lipped even on the things that related to his role as a prosecutor. He didn't have any new proposals or suggestions for lawmakers. He's leaving that to Congress.
KING: OK, so what do members of Congress say?
MAK: Well, there's been a big push by Senate Democrats in recent days, and again after Mueller's testimony, to press Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow votes on bipartisan election security legislation.
Election security is obviously more than just about ballot security, and so lawmakers have proposed things like mandatory disclosures of foreign political ad-buyers. They're trying to get it to be required to report if a foreign actor offers political information to a campaign. And they're trying to impose automatic sanctions against any country that is determined to interfere with a U.S. election.
KING: So you mentioned there were two election security bills that were blocked in the Senate yesterday. Is there currently any legislation on tap that addresses foreign interference that we think has a chance of becoming the law?
MAK: Not under current circumstances. And one of the major reasons for that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said that these measures are just not necessary. He and other Republicans have said that the relative lack of interference in the 2018 midterms signal that law enforcement and the intelligence community have basically all the tools that they need, although midterms and presidential elections are kind of a different animal. But Republicans have said and pointed to the fact that Congress has passed Russia sanctions in 2017 and the fact that Congress has already allocated nearly $400 million in election security grants to states over the last year.
KING: Essentially saying, at the moment, we're doing enough.
MAK: Right. They're saying we've got enough; we don't need these specific, tailored pieces of legislation to protect the election in 2020.
KING: NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.