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Top Democrat on FEC slams administration for interference in 2020 election

The top Democrat on the Federal Election Commission released a fiery memo on Saturday blasting the Trump administration for its refusal to certify and implement rules designed to halt foreign interference in the 2020 election.

In the 90-page document, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, argued that the Republican administration is “intentionally impeding” efforts to limit such election interference.

In a statement on Saturday, Trump Administration Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who serves in an interim capacity as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the commission’s decision is under review and that the White House has “provided its input to the Office of Management and Budget regarding timing and funding for the project.”

Weintraub’s memo, which could set off a legal showdown with the administration, pointed to a rash of steps taken by the White House — including the ouster of two Republican commissioners — to undermine the commission’s election integrity mission.

“The ‘quiet revolution’ is underway,” Weintraub said in the letter. “Decisions made in the White House, and by those appointed by President Trump, have undermined the work of this Commission, delayed action and deterred progress in preventing foreign interference with future elections.”

She continued: “Just last Friday the Trump administration advanced partisan policies, taking the steps necessary to permanently undermine a critical commission that is charged with the duty of ensuring the integrity of American elections.”

The letter was released at the Democrats’ request. The commission is expected to meet again in November to consider finishing rules to prevent voting fraud — an issue unrelated to foreign influence — and to assess those rules for cybersecurity.

Weintraub noted that it was during the chaotic waning days of the Barack Obama administration in 2017 that the FEC began work on the rules designed to prevent foreign interference in elections and that the rules were subsequently unanimously approved on a split commission.

Then, on August 8, 2018, a special counsel issued a sweeping report alleging that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice by firing then-FBI Director James Comey.

The special counsel’s report has laid out a series of investigative techniques that could draw Trump’s former lawyers into legal trouble. One of those, however, is whether and how Trump lied to the FBI, a crime that could ensnare his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Two months later, the commission began working to finish up rules aimed at curbing foreign interference in the 2020 election — rules that are also intended to curb voter fraud.

Some of those rules would require states to undergo reporting and certification of their electoral lists to the commission in the event of an attack. Foreign actors could be found to be living in the United States at the time of the attack. Such lists could be compared to the voter rolls to determine the accuracy of one list and how to prevent foreign influence.

Weintraub noted that the Trump administration indicated in May that it was satisfied with the progress that the commission had made on the rules but then canceled several scheduled meetings and proposals slated for approval by the commission.

“The Government has not identified a more effective way to protect American elections from foreign interference and such attacks must be addressed now,” the memo said.

Weintraub said that “it’s an open question whether the OAG or the White House can follow that unilateral decision and deny the commission the ability to finalize the rules until this issue is settled.”

The FEC can be considered the nation’s chief elections watchdog. The commission cannot order a member to step down and commissioners cannot legally take actions against a member without their consent. Only Congress can control the commission, and only Congress can disband it.

Although the commission was given the go-ahead to move forward with its rulemaking work in 2017, without delay, the commission was granted renewed authority and funding in 2018. The Republican commissioners worked with their fellow GOP commissioners to strip funding, which was now depleted, which has allowed the commission to continue working.

Still, the rules will not go into effect until they are adopted by the commission or they are approved by Congress.

With reporting by Josh Lederman