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Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill

Reports this week that Russia is attempting to interfere in the 2020 race sent congressional Democrats reeling, with many lashing out at Republicans and blaming President TrumpDonald TrumpProject Veritas surveilled government officials to expose anti-Trump sentiments: report Cheney: Fox News has 'a particular obligation' to refute election fraud claims The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? MORE.

The New York Times reported Thursday that intelligence officials recently briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russia interfering in the presidential race in an effort to get Trump reelected.

A day later, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersStudy: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B Machine Gun Kelly reveals how Bernie Sanders aided him in his relationship with Megan Fox Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response MORE (I-Vt.) said he had been briefed on similar attempts to meddle in the elections, with The Washington Post reporting the Kremlin has sought to help his White House bid.

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“All Members of Congress should condemn the President’s reported efforts to dismiss threats to the integrity of our democracy & to politicize our intel community,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Hillicon Valley: Colonial pipeline is back online, but concerns remain | Uber, Lyft struggle with driver supply | Apple cuts controversial hire Ocasio-Cortez on Taylor Greene: 'These are the kinds of people that I threw out of bars all the time' MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted after the Times story.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill MORE (D-N.Y.) also weighed in, saying Republicans would “rather let [Russian President Vladimir] Putin win than stand up to President Trump.”

Criticisms from Democrats persisted even after reports of Russia attempting to help Sanders in the primary.

“If Donald Trump perceives that Sen. Sanders is his best general election opponent, and the Russians according to what Sanders just said are attempting to help Sanders, that means that the president and the Russians are aligned in who they want the president’s opponent to be upcoming in the fall,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMcCarthy open to meeting officer injured on Jan. 6 after Swalwell claims he was 'hung up on' McCarthy brushes off questions about GOP lawmakers downplaying Jan. 6 violence GOP struggles to rein in nativism MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Community and former presidential candidate, told MSNBC on Friday night.

Trump pushed back on the Times report Friday, claiming it was part of a “misinformation campaign” against him led by Democrats.

“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Trump tweeted, referring to delayed results from the Iowa caucuses. “Hoax number 7!”

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But former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who worked in the Trump administration, said during a speech Friday that Russia was indeed “trying to interfere in 2020,” and that the Justice Department and the FBI are constantly “on guard” against those efforts.

Sanders, meanwhile, directed his response to Putin.

“I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement Friday. “My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, particularly those who were not part of the House Intelligence Committee briefing last week, are expecting to get more information from intelligence officials about Moscow’s efforts during congressional briefings next month. Pelosi said House lawmakers will receive a briefing on election security March 10, the same day the Senate will be briefed.

A spokesperson for Pelosi did not immediately respond to The Hill’s inquiry about which intelligence officials would be involved in the briefing.

Congress received an all-lawmaker briefing on election security in July from top administration officials, including now-former Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsExperts see 'unprecedented' increase in hackers targeting electric grid Intel heads to resume worldwide threats hearing scrapped under Trump Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows MORE, former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Election security has been seen as a touchy subject in the White House ever since Trump took office, and Coats was not the first administration official to receive pushback for bringing up the issue. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE reportedly focused on it during her time in the Trump administration, but according to The New York Times was told not to discuss the matter around Trump.

Russian interference concerns have been repeatedly brought up since the 2016 elections. U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee and the report compiled by former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE, concluded that Russian agents engaged in a sweeping interference campaign designed to benefit Trump in 2016.

Those efforts included disinformation campaigns on social media and the targeting of state election systems. Agents also hacked into the Democratic National Committee and the emails of top aides on the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit More than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows MORE.

Clinton on Friday alleged that Trump wants Russia to interfere in the 2020 race.

“Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself,” Clinton tweeted. “He knows he can’t win without it. And we can’t let it happen.”

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity House Democrats eye vote next week to form Jan. 6 commission Biden administration, Congress unite in effort to tackle ransomware attacks MORE (D-Miss.), whose panel has held multiple hearings on election security over the past year, said in a statement that Trump was “in denial” about Russian interference in 2016, and that the president's “ego cannot accept that Russia interfered on his behalf.”

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“The President is not only refusing to defend against foreign interference, he’s inviting it,” Thompson added.

Wray, in testimony this month before the House Judiciary Committee, said Russian influence campaigns “never stopped” after 2016. On the hacking front, a top Kentucky election official testified this week that election systems in the state are "routinely" targeted by foreign actors, including those from Russia, Venezuela and North Korea.

Efforts to pass election security bills have stalled in the Senate. Democrats have repeatedly tried to force votes on the measures, but have been blocked by Republicans.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE (R-Ky.) backed a bipartisan effort in December to appropriate $425 million to states to bolster election security efforts. That legislation was later signed into law by Trump.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Senate Finance Committee to consider clean energy legislation this month Hillicon Valley: Global cybersecurity leaders say they feel unprepared for attack | Senate Commerce Committee advances Biden's FTC nominee Lina Khan | Senate panel approves bill that would invest billions in tech MORE (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill in a statement Friday that he thinks top Republicans are “totally unconcerned” about potential Russian interference.

“At some point inaction in the face of overwhelming evidence of a threat is more than negligence, it’s complicity,” Wyden said.