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The head of a commission to protect US elections from cyber attacks has been removed by Paul Ryan

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House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, along with Republican congressional leaders.

Associated Press/Susan Walsh

  • The head of a federal commission who has helped U.S. states protect election systems from possible cyber attacks by Russia or others is being replaced.
  • Paul Ryan is behind the move, and his spokeswoman said the change is routine.
  • The action raises fresh questions over the degree to which Republican President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control Congress are taking steps to protect the security of American elections.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of a federal commission who has helped U.S. states protect election systems from possible cyber attacks by Russia or others is being replaced at the behest of Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House.

Matthew Masterson, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission who currently serves as its chairman, has been passed over for a second four-year term as one of the agency’s four commissioners.

“The appointment expired in December and we are going in a different direction for our nomination. We nominate people for a variety of positions and generally speaking choose our own folks,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, said by email on Thursday.

Strong rejected the notion that Masterson was being removed or shoved aside, characterizing the change as routine.

The commissioner post that Masterson, a former Ohio state official, currently holds is picked by the House speaker and formally nominated by the president. The three other commissioners are recommended by other congressional leaders.

Masterson has been a popular figure among state election officials, many of whom have praised his expertise and leadership on cyber security issues and expressed chagrin at his pending departure. The agency was created by Congress in 2002 to assist states in complying with federal election standards.

The action raises fresh questions over the degree to which Republican President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans who control Congress are taking steps to protect the security of American elections, and some state officials have accused them of doing too little to address the threat.

U.S. voters in November will go to the polls in midterm elections, which American intelligence officials have warned could be targeted by Russia or others seeking to disrupt the process.

There is intense scrutiny of the security of U.S. election systems after a 2016 presidential race in which Russia interfered, according to American intelligence agencies, to try to help Trump win with presidency. Trump in the past has been publicly skeptical about Russian election meddling.

Some Republicans over the years have sought to eliminate or reduce the Election Assistance Commission, arguing that it represents a federal overreach into the role of states in running elections.

Masterson originally was picked by former Speaker John Boehner, a Republican and fellow Ohioan, and nominated by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, before being confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in 2014.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment. Masterson also declined to comment.

Masterson is expected to remain a commissioner until his replacement is chosen by Ryan, formally nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. He already was due to give up his rotating chairmanship this month.

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