Although the House investigation was marred by Republican partisanship, and was prematurely and shamefully brought to an end by the president’s supporters on the committee, it did reveal this widespread unwillingness to inform law-enforcement agencies of the Russian efforts. Had anyone raised the alarm about this outreach, Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election might have been discovered and countered much earlier than they were. Instead, we are still picking up the pieces, and still vulnerable to foreign interference in our 2018 midterm elections.
Now that we have this knowledge, we have a responsibility to act on it so that this never happens again. To ignore this is to cede our democracy’s cornerstone—our free and fair elections—to our foreign adversaries. It was Russia supporting a Republican this time; it could be some other entity helping Democrats next time. This isn’t a partisan issue: No matter the players, it can’t be tolerated.
That’s why the Duty to Report Act would explicitly require candidates and campaigns to notify the FBI if anyone representing a foreign power offers dirt on that candidate’s opponents. More specifically, the legislation would make it a crime for candidates, their immediate family, or people involved with their campaign to fail to notify the FBI if any of them are told about, are offered, or receive in an unsolicited way nonpublic, materially significant information about another person running for the same office, when they know or recklessly disregard that the source is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.
The bill would apply only when the information is about a candidate seeking the same office, both because that seems the likeliest scenario for foreign interference, and to avoid having the law to cover innocuous conversations people may have about contests in which they’re not involved. And I specified “know or recklessly disregard” to avoid leaving space for disingenuousness. What you know might be debatable, but if it walks like a spy, talks like a spy, and acts like a spy, you must assume that it’s a spy and act accordingly.
Most of us probably hoped this would be common sense, but unfortunately, it seems we must specify it. This isn’t meant as a rebuke to President Trump or as an effort to relitigate the 2016 election—it’s a preventative, defensive measure for the future.
In addition to enshrining this duty to report in federal law, our political parties should make a firm public pact that stolen or illegally hacked materials will not be used in our campaigns. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already made this public commitment; the National Republican Campaign Committee has reportedly been more circumspect, telling The Atlantic that it is “open to working with anyone to tackle cybersecurity issues.”