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Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts

Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts
© Bonnie Cash

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Monday requested a classified counterintelligence briefing from the FBI, citing concerns that members of Congress are being targeted by a "concerted foreign interference campaign" ahead of the November elections.

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVoters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump tells GSA that Biden transition can begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump tells GSA that Biden transition can begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (D-Va.) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray requesting the all-members briefing take place before the August congressional recess.

“We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November,” the Democratic leaders wrote.  

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A congressional official told The Hill that the request was made based on a “classified addendum” included in the letter to Wray that “draws, in large part, from the Executive Branch’s own reporting and analysis.”

“The counterintelligence experts at the FBI must provide the full Congress with a defensive counterintelligence briefing on these threats before the August recess,” the congressional official added. 

The Democratic leaders asked that the FBI provide details of the briefing by later in the day on Monday, citing the “ongoing nature of these threats” for the quick turnaround.

“Given the seriousness and specificity of these threats, as members of congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees we believe it is imperative that the FBI provide a classified defensive briefing to all Members of Congress and that the briefing draw on all-source intelligence information and analysis, consistent with due regard for the protection of sensitive intelligence sources and methods,” the leaders wrote to Wray. 

The FBI said it "received the letter" but declined to comment further. Copies of the letter were also sent to the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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The House and Senate last participated in all members briefings on election security issues in February, which took place following reports that Russian agents were interfering in the 2020 elections to favor the campaigns of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration In the final chapter of 2020, we must recommit to repairing our democracy MORE (I-Vt.) and of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE.

Ahead of these briefings, Trump tweeted that members shouldn’t “expect too much" due to Schiff’s involvement. 

According to The New York Times, the information on interference in the Trump campaign came from a separate classified briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. Former acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireRetired Navy admiral behind bin Laden raid says he voted for Biden Congressional Democrats request FBI briefing on foreign election interference efforts Wells Fargo told employees to delete TikTok from work phones MORE stepped down from the position following the briefing, with Trump reportedly taking issue with Schiff’s involvement. 

The focus on election security has been amplified following Russia's interference effort in the 2016 elections, during which Russian agents targeted infrastructure in all 50 states, launched a sweeping disinformation campaign on social media designed to favor Trump and hacked into Democratic National Committee networks.