WASHINGTON – Top congressional Democrats on Monday demanded an intelligence briefing for all lawmakers on foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election –suggesting the Trump administration has specific information about a “concerted” disinformation campaign in the works.
“We are gravely concerned, in particular, 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,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Given the seriousness and specificity of these threats, as members of congressional leadership and the congressional intelligence committees we believe it is imperative that the FBI provide a classified defensive briefing to all members of Congress,” the letter states.
The missive asks the FBI to hold the briefing “at the earliest possible opportunity.” It was also signed by three other Democrats: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Senate intelligence committee Vice-Chairman Mark Warner.
A congressional official familiar with the matter declined to explain what prompted the urgent request for a briefing but said it is based on the Trump administration’s own intelligence reporting and analysis. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the matter, said it was vital that intelligence officials brief lawmakers before they leave for a month-long August break.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agency had received the letter but declined to comment further.
Intelligence officials told lawmakers in February that Russia was already interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Donald Trump re-elected, according to media reports at the time. In the 2016 election, the Kremlin hacked into Democratic Party emails and orchestrated a sophisticated disinformation campaign designed to help elect then-candidate Trump, intelligence officials concluded in a January 2017 report.
Trump has repeatedly discounted Russia’s role in the 2016 election, and he has downplayed the potential for Moscow’s potential interference in 2020.
On Monday, Biden slammed the Trump administration for failing to take the threat of foreign interference seriously. If elected, Biden said he would impose “substantial and lasting costs” on any U.S. foe that tried to meddle in America’s democratic process.
“I will direct my administration to leverage all appropriate instruments of national power and make full use of my executive authority to impose substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators. These costs could include financial-sector sanctions, asset freezes, cyber responses, and the exposure of corruption,” the former vice president said.
In a recent analysis, Clint Watts, an expert on Russian disinformation, noted that Facebook last year took down accounts associated with a Kremlin troll farm that was promoting Trump, denigrating his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, and boosting Bernie Sanders, one of Biden’s primary opponents. And in March, Facebook closed another Russian troll farm operation that appeared to be trying to infiltrate American minority groups on Facebook and Instagram, “presumably hoping to divide the political left and influence voters headed into Election Day,” said Watts, a fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank.
Experts say the U.S. is now far better prepared to weather potential election meddling by Russia or other foreign adversaries than in 2016.
Still, intelligence and cybersecurity officials fear Russia and other foreign actors – including China and Iran – could launch cyberattacks on voter registration databases and engage in other activity designed to sow chaos, division and doubt surrounding the election.