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The Cybersecurity 202: Republican plan to stall certification of Biden's win could hurt future election security, experts say

Nearly a dozen Republican senators are following Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead and threatening to not certify Joe Biden's win until Congress launches a 10-day audit of the 2020 election based on President Trump's baseless allegations of voting fraud. 

Election and legal experts say the last-ditch effort to stall Joe Biden’s win is unlikely to succeed. Even if it did, it would almost certainly fail to change the results of the 2020 election. 

But the effort could have lasting implications for election integrity in future votes. 

“It could certainly throw another wrench in our democracy and undermine voter confidence in our elections,” David Levine, elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, told me.

Elevating false allegations – especially after the courts have roundly dismissed the election challenges – plays right into the hands of foreign adversaries while undermining trust in local and state election officials, who stand by election results, experts say. The intelligence community and former attorney general William P. Barr said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud or foreign interference that altered the results of the 2020 election. Election officials called it “the most secure in American history.” 

“This is not going to stop Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris from taking the oath. The legal and factual arguments are flimsy and laughable, said Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. But it reinforces the idea for millions of people that there was something wrong with the election.”

Experts are also worried about Trumps attempt to pressure Georgia election officials to reverse his loss.

In a telephone call, Trump on Saturday pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R.) to “find 11,780 votes” to prove his victory, The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner reports.

Trump made vague threats that Raffensperger could face legal consequences if he refused to pursue debunked conspiracy theories that there were thousands of missing votes proving Trump's victory in the state, according to audio of the call exclusively obtained by The Post.

In a phone call on Jan. 2, President Trump insisted he won the state and threatened vague legal consequences. Here are excerpts from the call. (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

On the call Trump raised conspiracy theories that ballots had been destroyed to thwart investigations into the result and that voting machine company Dominion took machines out of the county in an implied coverup. Georgia officials refuted these claims. 

The dual assaults on the election results – in Congress and directly to state leaders – set “a new expectation that if you don’t like the results of the election, you just ignore the voters,” the Brennan Center's Waldman told me.

“Congress doesn’t have the ability to override the votes of states,” he said.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed back on Cruz’s plan.

Ten senators including Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine) and Bill Cassidy (La.) shared a letter Sunday saying that voters have spoken and urged colleagues to move forward.” The effort is expected to fail in the Senate and since Democrats hold more seats in the House. 

Others compared it to an all-out assault on democracy.

“What all of this comes down to is that Donald Trump and right wing extremists are refusing to accept the will of the people and the fact that Trump lost the election, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement. In their contempt for democracy, they are using lies and conspiracy theories about ‘voter fraud’ in an attempt to overturn the election results.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.):

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that the commission has “zero chance of becoming reality” and “appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy.”

All 10 living former defense secretaries, including two that served under Trump, rebuked the presidents tactics in an opinion piece published in The Post. “Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted,” the former defense secretaries wrote. “The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived.”

More election security legislation could help repair the distrust in the process, experts say. 

A Republican call for federal intervention into state oversight of elections is a big reversal from the months leading up to the election during which GOP leaders blocked election integrity legislation for allegedly violating state rights. On the table were efforts to make mail-in ballots more accessible and to provide states with more money to secure elections. 

“It’s quite hypocritical for people who have resisted federal involvement in elections to call for the most aggressive repudiation of federal elections ever, said Waldman.

Levine said election security legislation could now help counter some of the damage done by Trump.  “This election wasnt particularly close. Maybe these kinds of preposterous actions give us just more incentive to make sure the actual vulnerabilities we have in our elections aren’t being taken advantage of,” said Levine.

From Chris Krebs, the DHS cybersecurity agency director fired by Trump: 

The keys

A British judge rejected the United States's request to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States.

The judge sided with Assange's lawyers that the extradition would be “oppressive” and that Assange was likely to commit suicide if sent to the U.S., William Booth and Rachel Weiner report. But she rejected the lawyers' claims that Assange was protected by U.S. free speech guarantees, a win for U.S. prosecutors who are now looking to appeal. 

Assange faces violations of the Espionage Act. The charges of 18 federal crimes against him include conspiring to obtain and disclose hundreds of thousands of classified and sensitive government documents. 

U.S. prosecutors say that because Assange is not a U.S. citizen, he isnt protected by U.S. free-speech protections, and that his conduct violated journalism norms. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser agreed, saying his “conduct, if proved, would therefore amount to offenses in this jurisdiction that would not be protected by his right to freedom of speech.” 

Critics worry a successful prosecution could set a precedent of allowing the Justice Department to decide when First Amendment protections apply to the leaking of classified documents, William Booth and Rachel Weiner report.

Congress overrode Trump's veto to pass a defense bill that authorizes a slew of cybersecurity changes.

The $740 billion defense spending bill includes a provision that will bring a cybersecurity czar back to the White House. The Trump administration cut a similar role in 2018.

Cyberspace Solarium Commission co-chairs Sen. Angus S. King (I-Maine) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) called the position "a real game changer." The National Defense Authorization Act includes 27 provisions that draw from a report from the bipartisan congressional committee on cybersecurity released earlier this year.

The bill also beefs up the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency powers, including giving the agency the authorizations to hunt for cyberthreats on government networks and the power to subpoena Internet companies in order to identify threats.

Trump vetoed the bill over a number of criticisms, including the inclusion of the cyber director position.

Russian hackers were able to gain access to Microsoft’s source code.

The tech giants revelations signal that the hackers gained more access than was initially known, my colleague Ellen Nakashima reports.

The intruder compromised an employee account through which it viewed the code but could not manipulate it, Microsoft said. “We detected unusual activity with a small number of internal accounts and upon review, we discovered one account had been used to view source code in a number of source code repositories,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

The company did not specify what type of source code was accessed. But the details place Microsoft among a lengthy list of companies and government agencies that were victims of one of the most high-profile cyberespionage campaigns. The company previously disclosed weeks ago that it had detected malicious software in its system, which Ellen reports was a reference to a software patch from the firm SolarWinds that the Russians manipulated to potentially gain access to victims.

More cybersecurity news:

T-Mobile says hackers accessed some customer call records in data breach (TechCrunch)

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