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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: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence 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 TrumpBiden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged 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 BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot 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 RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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 RatcliffeFormer Trump officials eye bids for political office Grenell congratulates Buttigieg on becoming second openly gay Cabinet member Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official MORE, on election security threats.

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats demand Saudi accountability over Khashoggi killing US intel: Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi killing Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow 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.

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Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike House set for tight vote on COVID-19 relief package On The Money: Democrats scramble to save minimum wage hike | Personal incomes rise, inflation stays low after stimulus burst 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.