- Joshua Roberts/Reuters
- Sen. Marco Rubio detailed a hypothetical scenario during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that he says could trigger a constitutional crisis in the US.
- He explained how a foreign power could spread misinformation, penetrate voter databases, and manipulate election results – a sequence of events that would likely undermine faith in the American electoral process.
- Rubio was addressing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and her predecessor, Jeh Johnson, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on election security.
During a hearing the Senate Intelligence Committee held on election security Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio described a “hypothetical” scenario that he says could call into question the legitimacy of a new president and potentially trigger a constitutional crisis.
“Let’s assume for a moment that the year is 2020 or 2024, and there’s a foreign leader who’s tired of being lectured about democracy in their own country,” Rubio said, “and they decide they want to create chaos in the United States and create doubts about our legitimacy, so he or she orders an operation against our presidential election.”
The Florida Republican continued: “Now, one of the things they’ve perfected over the years is the ability to inject misinformation into the bloodstream of the internet. And they watch as this misinformation spreads like a virus until a significant number of people believe it.”
“They’ve also perfected strategic leaking of altered or factual information, which the mainstream media picks up on, and it fits perfectly into their red versus blue dynamic that plays out on cable news, making them unwitting agents.”
Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who testified at the hearing with current DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, suggested that Rubio’s scenario was not just a hypothetical, but a reality, mirroring what took place in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.
But Rubio’s imagined scenario wasn’t finished. He continued to describe a foreign power that penetrates voter databases in states across the US, changing people’s voting precincts or even deleting their names from the rolls altogether.
“And the result is that on Election Day, we start getting reports about thousands of voters in different parts of the country who can’t vote, because when they show up, they’re not registered,” he said. “Or they show up and they’re told that their voting place is halfway across town somewhere else.”
Rubio also outlined a foreign power’s ability to manipulate preliminary election results, potentially swinging the vote in one candidate’s favor in initial election reports, only to reverse the result by the time the official tallies come in.
“So what happens is, Candidate A refuses to concede,” Rubio said. “There’s this all-out fight going on in American society. In the months to come, millions of people march on Washington to try to force the Electoral College not to certify [the results]. Come January, we don’t even know if we can swear in a president. The military doesn’t know who the Commander in Chief is.”
“For the first time in 200-something years, the American republic is under duress from the inside out,” Rubio concluded.
He then asked the security officials if a scenario like that was the central threat to the American election system. Johnson, who was the DHS secretary under former President Barack Obama, told Rubio he thought the hypothetical was “a very good one” that “all Americans should be concerned about.” Current DHS Secretary Nielsen agreed.
Election security has become a hot topic in Washington ahead of the 2018 midterms as lawmakers face mounting pressure to do something about the threats posed by Russia and other state actors who may try to interfere in the US electoral process.
Lawmakers have proposed some measures to shore up vulnerabilities in the country’s voting systems, but so far there has been little action.
Watch Rubio’s full speech, and the secretaries’ responses, below: