House Dems press Tillerson about lack of spending to counter Russian meddling

House Dems press Tillerson about lack of spending to counter Russian meddling
© Camille Fine

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroLatinos projected to bear economic brunt of coronavirus Burr requests ethics investigation into stock sale, denies wrongdoing Castro forms PAC, boosts five House candidates MORE (D-Texas) are pressing Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Top Democrat demands Barr recuse himself from case against Turkish bank MORE on why the State Department has not yet spent any of the $120 million it has been allocated to combat foreign efforts to meddle in U.S. elections.

"The Department’s lack of spending for the [Global Engagement Center] is yet another example of the Trump administration’s failure to use the tools Congress provides to adequately respond to Russia’s 2016 election interference and counter its efforts to subvert our upcoming elections in November," the Democrats wrote in a letter dated Monday.

The letter comes on the heels of a New York Times report that the State Department has not spent any of the $120 million it has been given since 2016 to combat foreign efforts to sow discord and distrust in U.S. elections.

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According to that report, the Global Engagement Center, the State Department office charged with countering foreign propaganda and disinformation, has not hired any Russian-speaking analysts.

At the same time, a hiring freeze at the State Department imposed by Tillerson has curbed the agency's ability to bring on computer experts to track Russian disinformation efforts.

"According to the New York Times, the Department under your leadership has failed to spend a single dollar towards this effort. These reports also indicate that the Department has chosen not to adequately staff the center," Lieu and Castro wrote. "Alarmingly, not one of the 23 analysts working in the center speaks Russian, the language of one of the top sponsors of disinformation campaigns in the world."

The Trump administration has repeatedly faced scrutiny for what critics say is its failure to take seriously the intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and is planning to do so again in the 2018 midterm elections.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE has repeatedly brushed off that assessment as a "hoax" pushed by Democrats as an excuse for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus MORE's loss in the 2016 election.