After winning re-election to her seat in the U.S. House, Norma Torres, a Democrat from California, issued a press release making a startling accusation: El Salvador President Nayib Bukele participated in “foreign election interference” in her race.
Bukele, whose government has said it’s Torres who’s been interfering in that country’s matters, had urged residents of California’s 35th District to vote against Torres in a 2021 tweet. In the months leading to this year’s midterm elections, legislators from Bukele’s party openly supported her opponent on social media.
“Let’s say no to Norma Torres because she has caused so much harm to El Salvador,” one of the many tweets read.
Torres told NBC News that members of Bukele’s government openly supported her opponent in rallies and social media posts, and she said she was harassed in person and online with hateful and racist messages.
The State Department considers this an attempt to influence the elections.
“Throughout our last electoral process, we noted with alarm increasingly direct attempts by some Salvadorans to directly influence certain electoral outcomes in the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email. “As we have repeatedly made clear, this is unacceptable, and we have repeatedly communicated this directly to the Government of El Salvador through official diplomatic channels.”
“The integrity of our elections is a vital part of our democratic processes; the will of the people must not be undermined by foreign influence,” the spokesperson said….
Richard Hasen, an expert in election law and a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said there is a difference between a foreign person trying to influence the outcome of an election versus breaking American law, which requires spending money.
“There’s a technical difference. You can say someone is interfering with the election, you can call it election interference. I think that’s a fair thing to say,” he said. “But calling something election interference doesn’t mean it’s illegal election activity, which would require making campaign contributions or spending money to promote or oppose a candidate for federal office.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on whether any election laws were broken.