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Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials

Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials
© Greg Nash

Multiple Democratic senators on Wednesday sounded the alarm around foreign threats to U.S. elections, with lawmakers pressing for more information to be made public after two classified briefings from top federal officials.

“I am very deeply concerned, I think the American people need to know what we heard,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters after attending a Senate Armed Services Committee classified briefing on election security preparations.

“There is no excuse for failing to tell the American people more than they know now about the very grave threat to our election’s integrity, and I pressed them on that, and they said they were going to get back to me ... and I think the threat, my impression, is really potentially shocking,” he added.

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The committee was briefed by Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, and Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, on the Pentagon's cybersecurity efforts to secure the Nov. 3 election.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight 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 Cotton, Pentagon chief tangle over diversity training in military Democrats try to pin down Manchin on voting rights MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview after the briefing that he believed more information should be released to the public.

“There is the protecting against the outside threat, but then there’s all the inside threats, and whether the outside threat is communicated to the American public, I’m not happy with that,” Kaine said.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has come under fire by Democrats following a whistleblower allegation saying top agency officials pressured him to alter Russian intelligence findings to match President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE’s public remarks.

Democrats also previously raised concerns after ABC News reported that DHS had withheld the publication of a bulletin from the Office of Intelligence Analysis that found evidence Russian actors were attempting to use “allegations over the poor mental health” of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE to sway the election.

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Kaine noted Wednesday that while he has “a huge amount of confidence” in the Pentagon's efforts around election security, he does “not have the same degree of confidence in the DHS side of this operation.”

“I do think the American public hearing is often one of the best things, because we can guard,” Kaine added.

The public may hear more details soon. Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsTrump, midterms fuel GOP's effort to quash Jan. 6 commission Senate GOP blocks legislation on Jan. 6 commission Senate votes to advance China bill after Schumer strikes deal MORE (R-S.D.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, did not comment on the briefing, but told The Hill that “we hope to have some information released publicly in the next couple of days.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing took place the same day the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed by top administration officials, including Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFive things to know about the new spotlight on UFOs Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible Sunday shows preview: US hails Israel-Hamas cease-fire; 'vast differences' remain between Biden, GOP on infrastructure MORE, on election security threats.

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWhite House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal 'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch MORE (D-Va.) told The Hill that the Intelligence Community “should be as forward-leaning as possible” in “making sure the American public are aware” of threats to elections.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Senate panel advances nominations for key Treasury positions Overnight Health Care: US to donate 500 million Pfizer doses to other countries: reports | GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message | Federal appeals court blocks Missouri abortion ban MORE (D-Ore.), another member of the committee, also pushed for more information to be declassified.

“I think that clearly the American people as of now are not going to get what they need,” Wyden told The Hill. “I am not confident that the American people will get what they need to know in terms of information about the major issues in front of us, and taking steps to change it.”

The concerns from Democrats were raised a month after a senior intelligence official released an assessment warning that Russia is interfering in the election in favor of President Trump, while China and Iran are doing the same to bolster Biden.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that it had seen evidence that hackers based in Russia, Iran and China were targeting political groups, including the Biden and Trump campaigns, while the FBI and DHS released a joint alert earlier this week warning that foreign actors and cybercriminals were likely to spread disinformation around election results this year.