WASHINGTON (NEWS CENTER) — Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins both serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and they'd like to see a report issued soon that could help elections officials across the country be prepared for expected future attacks by Russia.
With the 2018 election season already underway, officials are being warned to protect the integrity of their voting systems.
The Intelligence Committee may release a preliminary report on Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 elections.
"I'm not saying that they changed votes, but they certainly tried to pit Americans against one another," Sen. Collins said.
The Intelligence Committee has been toiling away for months, often behind closed doors, trying to figure out the extent of Russian interference in last year's election. The question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign government has grabbed the most attention. That part of the inquiry is unfinished.
But to Collins and Sen. King, what the panel has already uncovered is perhaps even more important, a Russian disinformation campaign with much of its focus on American social media.
"They've gotten really good at this," King said. "They have a little factory in St. Petersburg. The sole job of those people when they go to work is to plant conspiracy theories and stories that are going to disrupt our political process.“
When former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, it brought questions about the Trump campaign back into the spotlight. But it is not likely to have too much impact on the Senate Intel investigation. At least not right away.
“I suspect that the Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller will not want us to interview him at this point until he is finished extracting every bit of information that he can from General Flynn," Collins said. "And since he is pursuing criminal wrongdoing, I think it's important that he be allowed to go first.”
“Our focus is what happened," King said. “We are focused on the facts. To the extent that General Flynn releases information that will be helpful to us in establishing the overall picture of what happened, that will be useful. But it's not directly related.”
To the two Mainers serving on the committee, it is vital that the panel's conclusions about Russia's fake news campaign — and the evidence that they were probing election systems in almost two dozen states — take the spotlight now.
“Did the Russians interfere in our elections and try to push it toward President Trump, and did they interfere with state elections? There's no doubt about that," King said, "and I think we got to get that out of there so people, particularly the states, can grapple with those realities.”
King said there are two key lessons for states: Never have an election system that does not involve a paper backup, and never have a voting machine connected to the internet.