Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat

House Democrats are warning that the integrity of November's elections are under significant threat from foreign actors — and the Trump administration, they say, is going out of its way to conceal the danger from the public.

Emerging from a long, classified briefing with top administration officials in the Capitol, a host of Democrats said they now have less confidence that the elections will be secure from outside influence than they did going into the meeting.

"I don't feel comfortable about what's going on," said Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenTennessee Rep. Steve Cohen wins Democratic primary Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Texas Democrat proposes legislation requiring masks in federal facilities MORE (D-Tenn.). "Very disturbing."

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"Horrible briefing," said Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindDemocrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Bottom line Coronavirus culture war over reopening economy hits Capitol Hill MORE (D-Wis.).

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet New postmaster general overhauls USPS leadership amid probe into mail delays MORE (D-Calif.), along with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Charles Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.) and the Democratic leaders of the congressional intelligence committees, had requested the briefing in a July 13 letter to the FBI, citing "a concerted foreign interference campaign" targeting Congress.

That campaign, they wrote, "seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November." They did not offer specifics.

More recently, the same four Democrats had pressed the administration to issue a public statement informing voters of the election interference threat heading into the polls in November.

Leaving Friday's briefing in the basement of the Capitol Visitors Center, a frustrated Pelosi made clear that that request has gone ignored, suggesting the administration is shrouding the details of the interference campaign for political reasons.

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"What I’m concerned about is that the American people should be better informed," Pelosi said.

"Leader Schumer and I wrote to them and said tell the truth to the American people and for some reason they are withholding it," she added. "That’s what I’m concerned about."

Among the administration officials conducting the briefing were Bill Evanina, head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center; Shelby Pierson, the intelligence community's top election security official; Nikki Flores, deputy assistant director at the FBI; Brad Benavides, section chief on the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force; and Brandon Wales, chief strategic officer at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

None of those officials spoke with reporters afterward.

The issue of election security and foreign meddling — once a area of broad bipartisan consensus — has become highly politicized under President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE, who has sought to downplay the influence of Russian interference during the 2016 campaign. The nation's intelligence agencies have determined that Moscow's objective was to sow American discord — and nudge Trump to victory.

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At a press briefing later Friday morning, Pelosi emphasized that Russia is at it again this election year, calling on Republicans to approve billions of dollars in emergency funding to ensure the elections run smoothly amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We do know that Russia is interfering again in our elections. The intelligence community has told us that they are continuing the behavior of what they did in past elections, and there may be other foreign governments that are trying to intervene," Pelosi said.

"So we need to protect the security of our electoral system, and we have to give people the opportunity to vote the way they want to vote — whether that's in-person or by mail."

Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Democrats introduce bill to repeal funding ban on abortions abroad MORE (D-Ill.) said Democrats on Friday had pressed the administration officials to explain the interference threat to the public — information "that we believe strongly should be told to the American people about the integrity of our elections."

They said they were rebuffed.

"I am more discouraged about the integrity [of the elections]," Schakowsky said.

Cohen, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subpanel on the Constitution, was equally discouraged, saying there's very little that Congress can do to force the administration's hand.

"It's primarily the executive's decision. We make laws, we do not make policy. We do not hire people, fire people, tell people what to put in reports and what to do," he said. "We're very limited in what we can do."

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests MORE (D-Calif.), the head of the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment.