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Maine Senators Voice Worry Over Election Interference To Senate Intelligence Committee

Robert F. Bukaty
Maine Public
Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King 2014

Maine’s two U.S. senators have said security officials aren’t giving adequate attention to attempts by Russia and other nations to influence elections. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King expressed those concerns during an unusual open meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday.

King said he spent an hour reading the still-classified Senate Intelligence Committee report on efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. He said the findings, which he would not detail publicly, are “horrifying.”

“What we saw wasn’t messing around or penetrating, it was a sophisticated, thorough, comprehensive, maligned and malicious attack on our electoral system,” King said.

King said this activity is still going on, as several states have held special elections to fill seats, and some have already held primary elections to nominate candidates for this year’s midterm elections.

Senator Collins grilled Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen on the Trump Administration’s response to the efforts to interfere with U.S. elections.

“At this point we know for certain that the Russians were relentless in their efforts, and also that those efforts are ongoing. And yet when I listen to your testimony, I hear no sense of urgency,” Collins said.

Nielsen defended the response of her agency, which she said takes the issue very seriously, and added that it has taken a number of steps to protect election infrastructure in the states.

“Not only is this of extreme urgency to the department, but as you know, we are expending not only extraordinary resources to provide any support at the request of states, but we are prioritizing election efforts and risk and vulnerability assessments,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said the agency is working with states to improve ballot security. But King, and other members of the committee, have said that they don’t believe enough is being done to protect the very foundation of the United States system of government.

“Make this the highest priority that we have,” King said. “This is, I believe, with the possible exception of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, this is the most serious threat our country is facing today. And we are not adequately dealing with it.”

King also continued his push for a national cyber deterrence strategy, to establish clear consequences for entities that try to interfere with U.S. elections. Both Collins and King urged Nielsen to expedite security clearances for state election officials so that they are kept up to date on cyber threats.

This story was originally published March 21, 2018 at 4:42 p.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.