with Tonya Riley

The ongoing turmoil over the 2020 election is increasingly leading to threats of violence against state election officials.

Georgia’s voting systems manager Gabriel Sterling described threats to his safety, attempts to hack his email and police protection at his home on Twitter this weekend. State and federal law enforcement are investigating the threats, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported

Sterling’s tweet came as President Trump and his legal team continue to lob baseless accusations that President-elect Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia was due to a grand fraud scheme that election officials are ignoring or complicit in. 

The threats underscore the real-world dangers of efforts by Trump and his supporters to sow unfounded doubts about the integrity of the election. And the danger extends well beyond Georgia. 

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) described similar threats against herself, her family and staff members in her office. She warned the president and lawmakers who were spreading disinformation about the election results that it is “well past time that they stop” and that “their words and actions have consequences.”

A PBS “Frontline” investigation found threats against local election workers in five hotly contested states that helped deliver Biden’s election victory over Trump. In addition to Georgia and Arizona, the states were Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada. 

Matthew Masterson, senior cybersecurity adviser at the Department of Homeland Security, called the threats “vile and unacceptable” on Twitter.

“These public servants have earned our appreciation & support, not this harassment,” he wrote. 

Here’s more from Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting: 

Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell raised the temperature on election officials even higher this weekend. 

She charged without evidence in a bizarre Newsmax interview that Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp and Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — both Trump allies before the election — were actually part of a broad plot to hand the state’s votes to Biden. 

“You name the manner of fraud, and it occurred in Georgia,” she said. 

Things got weirder from there: Powell also claimed that Dominion voting machines, which were used in Georgia and dozens of other states this year, were previously used to transfer votes from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primary and that Sanders knew about the fraud but kept silent. 

A few hours later, Trump’s other lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis released a statement saying Powell was no longer a lawyer for the campaign or the president

“She was too crazy even for the president,” a campaign official told my colleagues Felicia Sonmez and Josh Dawsey, adding that the president believed her media appearances were doing more harm to his cause than good.

Election officials have remained remarkably steady despite the threats.

That’s also despite the enormous pressures of post-election audits, reviews and certification procedures that have kept many of them working through nights and weekends since Nov. 3. 

Here are details from Matt Bernhard, a research engineer at Voting Works, who assisted with a hand audit of all of Georgia’s approximately 5 million votes that concluded Wednesday. 

That hand count audit and a separate review of the state’s voting machines found no evidence of fraud or of hacking. Trump’s legal team is nevertheless demanding another full recount in the state, while at the same time insisting that the results of those audits are illegitimate. 

They also alleged in a news conference that no ballots from the state can be trusted because of a shadowy conspiracy theory involving Dominion, the maker of the state’s voting machines. They’ve never made such claims in court, however — and the claims were made most prominently by Powell before her apparent ouster. 

Powell and Trump’s other lawyers described the release of their baseless fraud claims as “releasing the Kraken,” a catchphrase from the 1981 movie “The Clash of the Titans.”

The claims have been savaged by election security experts.

Here’s Chris Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who Trump fired for fact-checking phony election claims. 

Raffensperger defended the integrity of the Georgia recount in a Post op-ed this weekend. 

Election officials are also pressing forward with recounts in two Wisconsin counties. 

In a last-ditch effort to reverse Biden’s victory there, the Trump campaign is pushing to discard tens of thousands of ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties, Rosalind S. Helderman and Dan Simmons report. At issue are absentee ballots that the Trump legal team says should not have been accepted because they were delivered in person rather than by mail. 

“So far, their efforts have been rejected by the Democratic-majority boards of canvasses in both counties, which have denied attempts to set aside large categories of ballots and instead proceeded to a slow-moving process to retabulate all the votes,” my colleagues report. 

The comparatively smooth recounts in both states is a testament to how well their elections were run despite immense challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here’s election security expert and Georgetown University professor Matt Blaze:

The keys

Biden’s first foreign policy and national security picks signal a return to Obama-era cybersecurity policy. 

The president-elect plans to name his longtime adviser Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state and another adviser, Jake Sullivan, to be national security adviser, Annie Linskey, Matt Viser and John Hudson report.

Blinken was a top foreign policy official during the Obama administration. While he never focused directly on cybersecurity, he’s likely to emphasize Obama-era priorities such as building cybersecurity alliances and stressing global norms for when it’s appropriate for nations to hack each other and when it isn’t. 

Trump officials didn’t abandon those efforts but focused more on threatening digital adversaries such as China and Iran with bellicose language, especially under former national security adviser John Bolton. 

Biden’s team is also expected to take a far tougher stance on Russian hacking. Cybersecurity lawmakers also plan to push the administration to reinstate a top cyber ambassador position that was eliminated early in the Trump administration by the president's first secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Sullivan will bring personal experience with Russian hacking to the Biden administration. He was a top deputy to Hillary Clinton when her 2016 campaign was rocked by Russia’s hacking and leaking operation, which intelligence agencies say was aimed at hurting her candidacy and helping Trump’s.

Trump is losing allies as his fight to overturn the election drags on. 

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R), an early supporter of the president, called his legal team’s conduct a “national embarrassment,” Paul Kane and Felicia Sonmez report

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), meanwhile, said Trump had “exhausted all plausible legal options,” and urged him to concede while Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said it’s time to begin the transition.

Here’s a broader rundown from Amy Gardner:

Trump's prospects also worsened this weekend with a major courtroom loss in Pennsylvania where U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann dismissed a lawsuit that sought to stall certifying Biden’s victory in the state. 

Brann wrote that Trump’s legal team had used “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” in an effort to throw out millions of votes, Jon Swaine reported.

Lack of government email accounts is making the Biden transition more vulnerable to hacking.

The General Services Administration has declined to provide government email accounts to the transition team — which is usually standard practice, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Restuccia and Dustin Volz report. It’s part of a broader stonewalling of the transition process while Trump refuses to concede defeat.

“Frozen out of the government network, the transition team is relying on a standard, paid Google Workspace network,” Andrew and Dustin report.

The president-elect’s transition team has also invested in its own cybersecurity protections. 

That includes using physical devices that produce unique codes to log into accounts, Andrew and Dustin report.

“We are preparing to govern during a global pandemic and an economic recession, all while working remotely. From the outset of the transition, we have invested in best-in-class IT systems and processes,” a transition official said.

Hill watch

The House Intelligence Committee is trying to mend fences in a post-Trump world. 

But the committee faces long odds after four years of open warfare over Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump impeachment, Karoun Demirjian reports

Republican and Democratic lawmakers both expressed hope that the committee’s work will become less riven with partisanship in 2021. 

But they also held firm on old grudges. Republicans bashed Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for what they considered bias against Trump. Democrats slammed ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.) for allegedly siding with Trump over the intelligence community. 

“There’s a part of me that thinks it’s almost biblical, like Moses, and that generations are going to have to come and die out before everything is cleansed,” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a member of the panel, told Karoun. “But there are still things that are bipartisan: threats to national security, homeland security. . . . Heaven forbid something dramatic happens, which tends to be a unifier. And then it’s really up to people to decide to move on or not.” 

More cybersecurity news:

Chat room

Former CISA Deputy Director Matthew Travis, who was asked to resign from the agency along with Chris Krebs, said farewell on Friday. 


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