Russia targeted all 50 states in 2016 election hacking campaign, Senate report confirms

"America is facing a direct assault on the heart of our democracy," one lawmaker said.

Voters cast their ballots at the polling place in the Father Thomas A. Bernas Parish Center in Chicago, Illinois on April 2, 2019. CREDIT: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Voters cast their ballots at the polling place in the Father Thomas A. Bernas Parish Center in Chicago, Illinois on April 2, 2019. CREDIT: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Russian hackers probed election systems in all 50 states, a new Senate report confirmed Thursday.

The report comes one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that the Russian government is working to meddle in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed previous comments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian hackers scanned election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. DHS initially acknowledged Russian attempts to hack into election systems in just 21 states.


The heavily redacted, 67-page report found no evidence that Russia was able to alter vote counts in 2016, when Russia carried out what Mueller’s final report called a “sweeping and systematic” hacking and disinformation campaign.

The new report also details a breakdown in communication between officials at the FBI and DHS who knew of the Russian threat, and state and local election officials who administered the websites, databases, and email accounts that were being targeted.

That communication breakdown hindered an effective response to Russia’s hacking campaign, the committee found.

“In 2016, the U.S. was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure,” the committee’s chair, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), said in a statement.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the committee’s ranking member, said that federal and state officials have begun working more closely with their state and local counterparts since 2016.


“But there’s still much more we can and must do to protect our elections,” Warner said in a statement. “I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it.”

Democrats used Mueller’s testimony Wednesday as the backdrop to bring a trio of election security bills to the Senate floor, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked each one in succession.

Two of the measures, one by Warner and the other by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require campaigns to report offers of foreign support. The third, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would have allowed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to help secure personal electronic devices belonging to senators and their staff.

Hyde-Smith has not said why she blocked the measures, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has long opposed bringing election-security measures up for vote. Last year, for example, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking another election security bill, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”

“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”

The new reports’ recommendations include clearer lines of communication between officials at the federal level and their state-local counterparts, greater security for state and local election systems, and replacing outdated voting machines.


Wyden went a step further in a minority view attached to the report, calling for a stronger role for the federal government in securing the country’s election systems.

“The federal government’s response to this ongoing crisis cannot be limited to offers to provide resources and information, the acceptance of which is voluntary,” Wyden said in a statement. “If the country’s elections are to be defended, Congress must also establish mandatory, nation-wide cybersecurity requirements.”