Ratcliffe refuses to say whether Russian election interference favored Trump
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), President Trump’s nominee for director of national intelligence (DNI), refused to say Tuesday whether he agreed with the Intelligence Community’s (IC) assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to help the president.
Both the IC and the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to favor Trump. The House Intelligence Committee’s Republican majority concluded in 2018 that Russia interfered in the elections, but did not conclude this was to favor Trump, an analysis Democratic members of the committee disagreed with.
When asked about his thoughts on these conclusions by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) during his nomination hearing, Ratcliffe would not commit to one side.
Ratcliffe said that while he had “no reason to dispute” the Senate panel’s findings, he also would not dispute the House Intelligence Committee’s conclusions, a panel on which Ratcliffe serves.
“I respect both committees, but I have not seen the underlying intelligence to tell me why there is a difference of opinion between the two committees,” Ratcliffe said.
Ratcliffe did agree that Russian interference took place in 2016, and he said that he expects Russia to remain a threat to elections.
“The most important takeaway of the findings I think of both committees is that as Russia continues to sow discord that they have not been successful at changing votes or the outcome of the election, and we need to remain committed to making sure that does not happen in the future,” Ratcliffe said.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, alongside the Senate Intelligence panel and the IC, concluded that Russia launched a sweeping and systematic campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election that involved social media disinformation efforts and targeting of election infrastructure in order to favor Trump.
The Senate Intelligence Committee last month released the fourth volume of its investigation into Russian interference in 2016, reaffirming the IC’s findings. Warner said Tuesday that the committee hoped to release the fifth and final volume of its investigation before August, which is expected to address counterintelligence findings around Russian interference.
Russian election interference has been a tense issue for leaders of the IC. Former DNI Daniel Coats consistently supported IC findings around Russian interference, pushing back against Trump at times.
Former acting DNI Joseph Maguire reportedly stepped down from the position after Trump took extreme issue with the IC briefing the House Intelligence Committee, including Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), on Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 elections.
More recently, Schiff accused current acting DNI Richard Grenell of allowing IC staff to “interfere with the production and briefing of intelligence information” on election security that was given to Congress during a March 10 briefing. Grenell later pushed back against this charge.
Ratcliffe said Tuesday that he would make addressing election interference a “priority” alongside investigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus if confirmed as DNI.
“I will do everything to make it my highest priority if confirmed to do everything possible that we have those safe and secure and credible elections in 2020,” Ratcliffe said.
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