To Congress: If Russians Seek to Provide Dirt, Make it a Requirement to Report!

Shockingly – if anything shocks anymore – President Donald Trump told ABC news Wednesday that he need not tell the FBI if the Russians once again reached out with an offer of “dirt” on his opponents in the race for president.  When Trump was told that Christopher Wray, the FBI director the president himself appointed, said last month that this kind of attempted foreign election interference was something that should be reported to federal law enforcement, Trump’s response was: “The FBI Director is wrong.”

The good news is that Congress is already working on this issue. The Anti-Collusion Act, introduced Wednesday by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), would require everyone running for federal, state, or local office to report offers of assistance from a foreign government or agent of a foreign government to the Department of Justice. These “suspicious activity reports,” as they are labeled within the bill, are required when, among things, suspected foreign powers offer opposition research, polling data, and other information reasonably believed to have been acquired via unlawful means.

The legislation also prohibits candidates from sharing this kind of information with foreign governments or their agents. And it backs up this prohibition with fines and even possible jail time.

Malinowski’s bill is one of many currently circulating in the House and Senate (including legislation introduced by Democratic Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.),  Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) that would strengthen our election laws, ensure the FBI gets access to the kind of information needed to identify and protect against outside efforts to meddle, and prohibit campaigns and their affiliates from sharing private polling data with foreign adversaries. Other pieces of legislation are focusing on the related issues of election system security.  (The Washington Post details key efforts here.) It is critical that these efforts protect against foreign election interference, without also inadvertently labeling all foreigners suspect or stamping out all foreign speech. Malinowski’s bill strikes the right balance in that regard.

Sadly, the president’s comments last night are a sharp reminder as to why any of this is needed.

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Daskal

Professor and Faculty Director of the Tech, Law, Security Program at American University Washington College of Law. Member of the editorial board of Just Security. Follow her on Twitter (@jendaskal).