Late Thursday, the usually reticent head of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) took to Twitter — President Donald Trump’s preferred communication mode — to send a message that one could only assume she wanted to be sure the president did not miss.
“I would not have thought that I needed to say this,” FEC chairwoman Ellen Weintraub wrote, appending a copy of her statement.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,“ wrote Weintraub. “This is not a novel concept.“
I would not have thought that I needed to say this. pic.twitter.com/T743CsXq79
— Ellen L Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) June 13, 2019
Trump’s willingness to accept help from hostile foreign nations is wrong for a host of ethical and moral issues, to say nothing about it being deeply unpatriotic. And here’s another reason why it’s so troubling: It could suppress the votes of Americans from minority communities in the 2020 elections.
During an ABC News interview this week, the president acknowledged that he would happily accept dirt on a political rival from countries such as Russia or China.
FBI officials who have been working to stop foreign interference in U.S. elections say Trump’s remarks could encourage hostile actors to increase their efforts to interfere in the exercise of America’s most sacred and cherished institution.
Additional disinformation campaigns would also disproportionately impact minority communities which usually favor the Democratic candidate, according to voting rights expert Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice.
Communities of color, he said, bear the brunt of “disinformation and the divisive messaging.”
“Minorities are likely to be targeted, because there are generalizations you can make about their partisan preferences,” Vandewalker said.
He added that with no clear sign from the administration that it intends to aggressively push back against foreign election interference, “there are expectations that attempts to attack voter infrastructure will continue.”
Vandewalker added that Russia supported Trump in 2016 and that it seems only “logical” that it will support him again in 2020. Black voters in particular can expect to be targeted aggressively, he said.
“[I]f you are going to target Democratic voters, you are going to target African Americans,” he said.
Russia did, in fact, target African Americans during the 2016 election by launching disinformation campaigns on social media intended to encourage black people from voting for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Russia has since continued its disinformation campaign, posting various meme on Instagram. There are also signs that online trolls from Venezuela, Iran, and China have been targeting Americans on social media, said Vandewalker.
Trump has previously brushed aside the conclusions of his own intelligence community that Russia helped influence the 2016 election in his favor.
His administration has stubbornly ignored calls to fortify America’s election security systems in its proposed 2020 budget, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has also blocked bi-partisan efforts to protect America’s voting systems from a future cyber attack.
Earlier this year, former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report concluded that not only did Russia successfully interfere in the 2016 election, but members of Trump’s campaign appeared willing to accept its help.
The culmination of a two-year-long investigation, Mueller’s reports found that Russians attacked America’s vulnerable election systems during the 2016 election by hacking into the election databases of at least two pro-Trump counties.
Not surprisingly, Democrats hoping to succeed Trump in the White House wasted no time hitting out at the president over his recent remarks about accepting foreign help in the election.
“This is simple. American elections should be decided by the American people and not by Russian or any other foreign power,” former Vice President and 2020 candidate, Joe Biden, said in a statement released by his campaign Friday.
“Donald Trump doesn’t think it matters if candidates accept damaging intel on their opponent from a foreign government. He’s dead wrong,” Biden said, announcing that he has signed a candidate pledge not to use disinformation in his campaign or tolerate outside information.
Some of the 2020 Democrats tweeted their displeasure.
We have a president who neither understands nor respects the constitution of the United States, and he thinks the law does not apply to him.
No president is above the law, including this president — it is time for the House to begin impeachment inquiries. pic.twitter.com/Si4xjiTxgi
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 14, 2019
The #MuellerReport made it clear: A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation. Now, he said he'd do it all over again. It's time to impeach Donald Trump. https://t.co/yk25iGYpmC
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 12, 2019
This is inexcusable. The President of the United States just effectively gave permission to foreign agents to interfere in our elections. We need my Secure Elections Act and Honest Ads Act passed immediately. The 2020 elections are not secure. Disgraceful. https://t.co/Ht8GwBA0Aj
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) June 13, 2019
Meanwhile, several Democratic presidential candidates are among the lawmakers sponsoring a bill that would create a bulwark around the nation’s vulnerable election systems.
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are among the lawmakers who last month sponsored the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act to protect American elections from foreign interference.
The measure would mandate hand-marked paper ballots and set new cybersecurity standards for all federal elections.