Senate panel approves legislation requiring campaigns to report foreign election help

Author: Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb / CNN
Published: Updated:
US Capitol building
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

The Senate Intelligence Committee quietly approved on Wednesday a measure that would require presidential campaigns to report offers of foreign election influence to federal authorities, a move taken in response to Russian election interference in 2016 and one that could draw the attention of President Donald Trump, committee sources say.

The committee adopted the measure behind closed doors in a classified setting, adding it to the Intelligence Authorization Act, a bill setting policy for the intelligence community. The amendment was offered by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat and the author of the standalone legislation, and GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. It passed 8-7, with Collins joining the panel’s seven Democrats.

Warner introduced the legislation last year after then-special counsel Robert Mueller found the Trump campaign had not conspired with the Russians but had welcomed the help that Russian agents offered to Trump’s election.

The measure adopted Wednesday based on Warner’s bill would require all presidential campaign officials to report to the FBI any contacts with foreign nationals trying either to make campaign donations or coordinate with a campaign. There were some changes from the version Warner initially introduced last year, such as limiting the measure to presidential campaigns, not all federal elections.

Warner has repeatedly tried to pass the bill in the Senate, but it’s been blocked by Republicans, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. After she blocked the bill in June 2019, calling it a “blatant political stunt,” Trump tweeted his appreciation for her efforts.

“Democrats continue to look for a do-over on the Mueller Report and will stop at nothing to distract the American people from the great accomplishments of this Administration!” Trump tweeted in response to her move.

The bill the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted Wednesday included new whistleblower protections following the attacks on the intelligence community whistleblower who filed a complaint alleging Trump was seeking election help from the Ukrainian President, which led to his impeachment by the House. The whistleblower provisions include an explicit prohibition on “leaking a whistleblower identity,” according to a summary of the measure.

The legislation also clarifies the legal definition of an “urgent concern” that requires the intelligence community inspector general to notify Congress about a whistleblower complaint — the issue that led to Trump’s firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

The intelligence policy bill, which the committee approved 14-1, still has to be approved by the full Senate. One option is that the bill could get attached to the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is expected to take up later this month.

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