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Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump

Schumer says briefing on Iranian election interference didn't convince him effort was meant to hurt Trump
© Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that a classified briefing he received on Iranian activity to influence next month's election did not convince him the effort is aimed at discrediting President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE, contrary to what Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Five things to know about the new spotlight on UFOs Extraordinary explanations for UFOs look increasingly plausible MORE told the public. 

“I did receive a classified briefing this afternoon on this, and so I can't discuss the details but I can tell you one thing it was clear to me, that the intent of Iran in this case, and Russia in many more cases is to … basically undermine confidence in our elections,” Schumer said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowDemocratic group launches seven-figure ad campaign on voting rights bill GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message Fauci hits back at GOP criticism over emails: 'It's all nonsense' MORE Show.”  

“This action I do not believe was aimed, from my surmise, was aimed at discrediting President Trump,” he added. 

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Ratcliffe during a press conference Wednesday evening said Russia and Iran are behind new efforts to sway public opinions related to the 2020 presidential election. He said Iran specifically is behind sending spoofed emails that aim to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage Trump. 

Schumer disagreed on the last point. 

“I’m not saying what he told me in their briefing, I can tell you that from the briefing I had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure, but rather to undermine the very wellspring of our democracy,” he said. 

“That was my strong impression at the meeting. I did not get the impression it was aimed at any political figure, and I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at this press conference,” he added. 

National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina in August warned of ongoing election interference efforts by China, Russia and Iran. He said that China prefers Trump not win reelection, Iran seeks to undermine both Trump and U.S. institutions and Russia is working to “primarily denigrate” Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE.

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Emails sent to citizens in several states this week from domains purporting to be far-right group Proud Boys threatened recipients to vote for Trump or face consequences. Individuals affiliated with the Proud Boys had denied sending the emails before Ratcliffe’s press conference.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien also told reporters on Thursday the emails sent to registered voters sought to damage Trump, while acknowledging other efforts by Russia to harm Democrats. 

“Some of these ploys were very sophisticated. So, if they have an email campaign that is targeted at Democrats supposedly from the Proud Boys or some group and then the media comes out and says, 'oh look at Trump’s supporters are doing this,' that’s something that definitely damages President Trump,” O’Brien said. 

“But the Russians and other people do it with the Democrats. They email out saying that the Second Amendment will be destroyed which, you know, I don’t know what will happen in a Democratic administration, but they are putting those emails out to try and inflame people against the Democrats,” he added. 

Schumer said any successful effort to undermine U.S. elections could be the “beginning of the end of this democracy” and that he has urged Ratcliffe and other intelligence officials to “do everything they can” to prevent that from happening. 

“There are tools that they can use and they should use them forthwith,” he told Maddow.

The intelligence community has concluded that Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 election were intended to boost Trump, a conclusion Trump has repeatedly rejected, saying no one has been tougher on Moscow than he has. 

The president has had a largely adversarial relationship with Iran throughout his tenure, including pulling the U.S. out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal and ordering the strike that killed Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq earlier this year.