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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 PelosiOn The Money: Trump says stimulus deal will happen after election | Holiday spending estimates lowest in four years | Domestic workers saw jobs, hours plummet due to COVID Hoyer lays out ambitious Democratic agenda for 2021, with health care at top CNN won't run pro-Trump ad warning Biden will raise taxes on middle class 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 PutinThe US must not lose the cyberwar with Russia Chechen leader: Macron's stance on Muhammad cartoons 'forcing people into terrorism' Russia implements national mask mandate as coronavirus cases rise 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 BidenGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska Jeff Daniels narrates new Biden campaign ad for Michigan 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 TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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 McConnellBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Trump blasts Obama speech for Biden as 'fake' after Obama hits Trump's tax payments White House hoping for COVID-19 relief deal 'within weeks': spokeswoman 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 RubioSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.) and Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Intel leadership urges American vigilance amid foreign election interference Intel officials say Iran, Russia seeking to influence election Senate Intel leaders warn of election systems threats 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 MurphyBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger McEnany appears on Fox in 'personal capacity' as Trump campaign adviser US signs satellite data-sharing pact with India, warns of Chinese threats 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 SchiffIn our 'Bizarro World' of 2020 politics, the left takes a wrong turn Greenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (D-Calif.), during an interview with MSNBC, called efforts to compare the interference efforts between those three countries a “disservice.”

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“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 JohnsonDemocrat announces 2022 bid for Ron Johnson's seat Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day 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) MenendezTrump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort Governors urge negotiators to include top priorities in final defense policy bill MORE (R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  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 SchumerHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' MORE (D-N.Y.) also singled out the GOP investigations, the other being led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNew Lincoln Project ad goes after Lindsey Graham: 'A political parasite' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day Biden's polling lead over Trump looks more comfortable than Clinton's 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.”