Three top Democratic senators say they have grown increasingly concerned about a foreign interference campaign targeting Congress and the 2020 presidential election following recent classified briefings from the intelligence community, and are now urging FBI Director Chris Wray to regularly brief the Senate on the threat and make more information public.
In a letter sent to Wray on Friday and obtained by POLITICO, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed “growing concerns that foreign actors continue to target the November 2020 election,” citing recent briefings from the FBI and intelligence community.
“Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi noted in their July 13th letter to you that ‘Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November,'” the senators wrote. “We attended classified briefings from the intelligence community and FBI over the past week and our concerns with respect to this targeting have only grown.”
The July 13 letter included a classified addendum that raised concerns about a Senate investigation being led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) serving as a vehicle for laundering a foreign influence campaign to damage Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The full House and Senate were briefed in the last week on the integrity of the 2020 vote; the classified sessions outlined threats from adversaries including China and Russia, and touched upon the activities of individual foreign actors including Andrii Telizhenko–a Ukrainian who has amplified disputed claims about coordination between Kyiv and the Democratic National Committee in 2016–and Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker who has sent information about the Bidens to Trump allies on Capitol Hill. Both Telizhenko and Derkach have said they’ve given information to Johnson’s panel.
The senators’ Friday letter to Wray seemed implicitly directed at Johnson and his investigation.
“We urge you to provide a regular series of update briefings in the coming weeks so that all Senators are aware of the specific threats posed by this or any other concerted foreign interference campaign that is targeting Congress and seeks to influence the presidential election in November,” the three senators wrote in their letter to Wray. “Members must understand the risks inherent in accepting information generated by foreign sources, especially those committees currently conducting investigations.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and other national security and intelligence officials briefed senators on Monday about election security and foreign influence, and they appeared to signal that the Trump administration was preparing to disclose more information to the public about Russia’s intentions.
And William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, acknowledged during a House briefing last week–after being upbraided by Pelosi over his reluctance to make more details public–that Russia is again trying to boost Trump’s reelection and denigrate Biden.
But Democratic lawmakers remain unsatisfied with how little has been made public, and, with fewer than 90 days until the election, are turning up the pressure on the Trump administration.
“I remain very concerned information is being withheld from the public that could help voters distinguish legitimate political speech from foreign propaganda,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote on Monday following a briefing from Ratcliffe on foreign election interference. “Shocked & appalled,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) tweeted on Tuesday. “I just left a 90 minute classified briefing on foreign malign threats to our elections. From spying to sabotage, Americans need to see & hear these reports.”
In their Friday letter, Menendez, Durbin and Reed urged Wray to “make public as much information as possible regarding the foreign threat to our elections, including the aims, capabilities, and means used by these foreign actors…the American public urgently deserve to know in clear and specific terms about these threats and the ongoing malign activities of our adversaries.”