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Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling

Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling
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Democrats are increasingly speaking out over Russia's attempts to pull off a repeat of 2016 by meddling again in the presidential election.

Top Democratic lawmakers and party officials, who argue the intelligence community didn’t do enough in 2016 to warn voters about election interference, are urging intel leaders to be as specific and open as possible heading into November.

The Democratic strategy consists of constantly requesting briefings, issuing numerous joint statements and hitting the cable news circuit to sound the alarm over Moscow’s interference efforts.

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Overnight Energy: Lake Mead's decline points to scary water future in West | White House leads opposition to raising gas tax | Biden taps ex-New Mexico lawmaker for USDA post Trump against boycotting Beijing Olympics in 2022 MORE (D-Calif.) in a CNN interview warned that Russia was interfering “24/7” in this year’s election.

"They did so in 2016, and they are doing so now. The American people, I believe they should decide who the president of the United States is, not Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Joe Biden the statesman Biden's summit with Putin is a good start MORE making that decision for us,” she added.

Democrats scored a victory late last week when William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a public statement that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election with an aim to “denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Evanina said Mosocow is targeting Biden and others it views as anti-Russian “establishment,” and that the actions line up with how Russia felt about Biden while he was vice president, in part due to his work on Ukraine.

"Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE’s candidacy on social media and Russian television," Evanina said.

The statement got a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory Graham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' MORE (R-Ky.), mirroring Evanina, said while Russia remains a “significant threat” it would be a “serious mistake” to ignore China and Iran. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-Fla.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting On The Money: Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle | White House rules out gas tax hike Democrats introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for government discrimination MORE (D-Va.) released a joint statement thanking Evanina and saying information the Trump administration is sharing with lawmakers, when appropriate, should be shared publicly.

But several Democrats argue it didn’t go far enough, and that it equates Russia's election meddling with similar efforts by China and Iran, two countries Evanina said would prefer a Trump defeat in November.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyEnd the practice of hitting children in public schools Public option fades with little outcry from progressives Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (D-Conn.) argued that only one country has both “the capability and intention to significantly disrupt the 2020 American election.”

“It's not Iran. It's not North Korea. It's not China. It's Russia,” he said.

Concern about Russia’s election meddling efforts has been brewing on Capitol Hill for weeks amid pointed questions from lawmakers and public requests that the Trump administration declassify information about election interference to warn voters.

Murphy questioned Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE during a public hearing about Ukranian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach. Evanina subsequently mentioned him in his statement as a person involved with spreading Russian misinformation. And Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) warned during a Judiciary Committee hearing that information lawmakers were learning behind closed doors was “absolutely chilling.”

Concerns about the Kremlin’s election meddling come after the FBI, and then-special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE, launched a years-long investigation into Russia's election meddling during the 2016 election and the Trump campaign.

Mueller found that Russia interfered in the election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” including spreading disinformation through social media that “favored” Trump and attacking state election systems directly. He then warned lawmakers during public testimony last year that Russia was laying the groundwork to meddle in the 2020 election “as we sit here.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee, earlier this year, also affirmed in a bipartisan fashion the intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.

But Trump dismissed Evanina’s warning that Russia is working to undermine Biden, saying instead that he himself is the “last person” Moscow wants in the White House. Trump has repeatedly dismissed questions about Russian meddling, with GOP lawmakers believing he equates concerns about election interference with challenging the legitimacy of his 2016 victory.

National security adviser Robert O'Brien also argued that it was more than “just Russia,” trying to interfere, telling CBS News's "Face the Nation" that the "Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians, others who would like to interfere with our democracy.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Cyber concerns dominate Biden-Putin summit Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.), during an interview with MSNBC, called efforts to compare the interference efforts between those three countries a “disservice.”

“It's quite a deliberate one, to, I think, suit the president's political narrative more, which is [to] elevate the China threat and try to diminish any concerns about Russia, when Russia is the one that is engaging here in a covert way to try to influence the vote,” Schiff said.

Though Republican lawmakers stress they believe Moscow is meddling again, the efforts by Democrats to push the Trump administration to speak publicly about Russian interference hasn’t been without controversy.

After Democrats panned an earlier statement late last month by Evanina, McConnell and Rubio accused Democrats of “manufactured complaints” that politicize “intelligence matters.” And Rubio, after Evanina’s statement, dismissed the idea that the administration official was driven by Democratic pressure tactics, tweeting that “this incessant politicization helps advance China,Russia [and] Iran’s efforts.”

The tensions are also growing between Democrats and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting GOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday MORE (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Johnson is months into an investigation that touches in part on Hunter Biden and Obama-era Ukraine policy, a probe that Democrats view as an attempt to undercut Joe Biden and potentially spread Russian disinformation.

In the latest letter from Democrats, sparked by Johnson’s probe, they urged the FBI to release information about meddling attempts, arguing that closed-door briefings “have only grown” their concern that Congress is the target of a foreign interference campaign aimed at trying to discredit the former vice president with misinformation.

“Members must understand the risks inherent in accepting information generated by foreign sources, especially those committees currently conducting investigations,” Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer says Senate will vote on repealing 2002 war authorization The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Sanders drops bid to block Biden's Israel arms sale MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jack ReedJack ReedGillibrand: Military must make changes beyond sexual assault cases Overnight Defense: Pentagon details military construction projects getting .2B restored from wall funds | Biden chooses former commander to lead Navy | Bill seeks to boost visa program for Afghans who helped US Biden taps tech CEO, former destroyer commander to lead Navy MORE (R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Dick DurbinDick DurbinOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill MORE (Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, wrote in a letter Friday to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision Senate confirms Chris Inglis as first White House cyber czar MORE (D-N.Y.) also singled out the GOP investigations, the other being led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Graham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (R-S.C.).

Americans “should know one other thing, that these hearings that Johnson and Graham are doing, some of it is now, now it’s public, is based on false Russian intelligence about Joe Biden. In other words, false Russian reports about Joe Biden. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they’re doing, letting the Russians manipulate them and us, the American people, or try to manipulate us,” he said.

Johnson has repeatedly said his investigation is not focused on the Bidens, but more broadly about decisions made during the Obama administration, as well as a separate probe focused on the FBI’s Russia investigation.

But in a lengthy letter publicly released this week Johnson defended probing the Bidens, arguing that “their previous actions had put them in the middle of it.”

“Many in the media, in an ongoing attempt to provide cover for former Vice President BidenJoe Biden 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll Philadelphia shooting leaves 2 dead, injures toddler Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin MORE, continue to repeat the mantra that there is ‘no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity’ related to Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board. I could not disagree more,” Johnson wrote.

He added that he had “no doubt” that Russia was trying to interfere in the election, but also accused Democrats of spreading disinformation and trying to undermine his investigation.

“Democrats and many in the media have mainly focused their criticism of our investigation on the Biden component of our oversight,” Johnson wrote. “In their current attempt to circle the wagons around Biden, they have once again decided to weaponize a false ‘Russian disinformation’ narrative as a tool for attacking their political opponents.”