Departing U.S. election official hired for new cyber role in Trump administration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The former head of a federal agency helping U.S. states protect election systems from hackers has been hired for a similar role within the Trump administration after being passed up for reappointment by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House.

Matthew Masterson, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission who until recently served as its chairman, has accepted a senior adviser position within the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber wing to continue working on election security and related issues, the department said in a statement on Monday.

The hiring means Masterson, widely viewed as a key election security official, will continue to work with states and federal agencies on the issue heading into November’s midterm contests, which some intelligence specialists fear may be targeted by Russia or others.

In a statement, Chris Krebs, a senior cybersecurity official at DHS, praised Masterson as “instrumental in bridging gaps between federal, state, and local governments” to improve election cybersecurity.

“Matt is one of the most equipped to advise on this non-partisan issue and will be an asset to the organization,” Krebs added. Masterson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported last month that Masterson was being replaced by Ryan and the White House for a second four-year term as one of the election agency’s four commissioners despite being a popular figure among state election officials, many of whom praised his expertise and leadership on cyber security issues.

Masterson, a former election official in Ohio, had been picked for a commissioner post by former Republican House Speaker John Boehner and formally nominated by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2014.

News of his pending departure led some state election officials, security experts and Democrats to accuse Republicans of not taking the issue of election cybersecurity seriously enough, despite repeated warnings from senior U.S. intelligence officials that Russia and others are likely to interfere in this year’s November midterm contests.

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 Donald Trump win with presidency. Trump in the past has been publicly skeptical about Russian election meddling, which DHS has said included initial probing of at least 21 states’ networks.

Trump last week signed a federal spending bill that includes nearly $400 million in funding to help states safeguard voting systems from cyber attacks.

Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman