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Trump Russian comments rile Minnesota elections leader

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon says on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, that he wants lawmakers to approve him spending $1.5 million of federal funds to improve voter database security. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Minnesota's election chief says President Donald Trump made United States elections less secure with his comments doubting Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

"We know that Russia attempted to attack our election system across the United States in 2016, including unsuccessfully here in Minnesota," Secretary of State Steve Simon said Monday, July 16, hours after Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin stood side by side telling reporters what just happened in their meeting behind closed doors.

"Just two days ago, I met with the most senior leaders of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who told me that the ongoing threat is real, and that 'election security is national security,'" Simon said about a department that reports to Trump.

Simon is a Democrat, but Washington Republicans also were critical of Trump for agreeing with Putin that Russians were not responsible for 2016 election hacking. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, for instance, said that Russia "is not our ally."

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., agreed there is no question Russia tried to influence the 2016 election, as reported by American intelligence agencies.

"When asked today to choose between our own country's intelligence community and Vladimir Putin—the leader of a hostile foreign power—President Trump refused to choose, and instead blamed our own country," Smith said. "This is a shocking development when I thought I couldn't be shocked any more."

Simon said the discussion needs to change to how to prevent future problems.

"Make no mistake: Until the leadership of our state and country—regardless of party affiliation—acknowledge the irrefutable fact that Russia is engaged in ongoing efforts to undermine our democracy, we are wasting time and attention on a debate over 'alternative facts,' instead of defending our democracy from those who wish to harm us," the secretary of state said. "Minnesotans should know that my office will continue to defend our best-in-the-nation elections systems from all attacks."

Two months ago, days before the state Legislature adjourned, Simon urged lawmakers to approve spending $1.5 million to improve the state voter database security. The state already had the money from the federal government; it just needed legislative approval to be spent.

But the provision never became law as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature could not agree on most items at the end of session.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.