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 John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled 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 SandersGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet Progressives lost the battle for the Democratic Party's soul 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 PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted after the Times story.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMeadows: 'I'm not optimistic there will be a solution in the very near term' on coronavirus package Biden calls on Trump, Congress to enact an emergency housing program Senators press Postal Service over complaints of slow delivery 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 SwalwellSwalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO 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 CoatsTrump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet America's divide widens: Ignore it no longer Trump gives Grenell his Cabinet chair after he steps down 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 NielsenTrump's acting ICE chief to leave post Trump's fight with city leaders escalates Neo-Nazi pleads guilty to 'swatting' Black church, Cabinet official, journalists 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 ClintonState polling problematic — again 4 reasons why Trump can't be written off — yet 'Unmasking' Steele dossier source: Was confidentiality ever part of the deal? 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 to launch probe into DHS excluding NY from Trusted Traveler Program Cuomo says Wolf, Cuccinelli violated oath of office and should be investigated FEMA head: 'We have a ways to go' on having enough PPE 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 McConnellGOP scrambles to fend off Kobach in Kansas primary Meadows: Election will be held on November third Don't let Trump distract us from the real threat of his presidency 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 WydenFrustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal On The Money: Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock | Meadows, Pelosi trade criticism on stalled stimulus talks | Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock 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.