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 PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds 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 PutinWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Former intelligence agency director Robert Cardillo speaks out against 'erratic' Trump Kremlin: Putin calls for reset between US and Russia on cyber relations before elections 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 BidenJoe BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida MORE, 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 John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick 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 McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments 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 RubioGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power McConnell pushes back on Trump: 'There will be an orderly transition' Graham vows GOP will accept election results after Trump comments MORE (R-Fla.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFBI director casts doubt on concerns over mail-in voting fraud Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials It's time to upgrade benefits 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 MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Trump's push for win with Sudan amps up pressure on Congress  Putin nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power 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 JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose CHC leaders urge Senate to oppose Chad Wolf nomination  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) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police When 'Buy American' and common sense collide MORE (R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death 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 SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.) also singled out the GOP investigations, the other being led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLincoln Project mocks Lindsey Graham's fundraising lag with Sarah McLachlan-themed video The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error 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 Biden, 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.”