But as Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agree that Russia is once again trying to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, both sides have emerged from recent election security announcements, with disagreements over what intelligence says classified for Moscow purposes. The dispute reflects how the two sides spared during the campaign of Russian interference in the 2016 election as GOP leaders and Democrats clashed privately during the heat of that campaign over how much to reveal to the public.
On Friday senior intelligence official William Evanina issued the clearest statement yet that the intelligence community believes Russia is working to harm Biden while declaring that China and Iran are trying to harm Trump.
“We appreciate that Russia is using a range of measures to denigrate Vice President Biden and what he sees as an ̵6;anti-Russian’ establishment,” the statement said.
“Pro-Russian Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading allegations of corruption – including through leaked phone calls – to undermine the candidacy of former Vice President Biden and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to increase “President Trump’s candidacy on Russian social media and television,” Evanina added.
But Evanina also said China would “prefer” Trump to lose and that it is “extending its influence” ahead of the election. Similarly, he stated that Iran was seeking to “undermine the democratic institutions of the United States, President Trump, and divide the country.”
“The intelligence services have come to very strong conclusions about what concerns the Russians and who is acting on behalf of the Russians,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told of the Senate, told CNN on Thursday, referring to the 2020 campaign.
“In the reports I have received, there is no ambiguity as to what the purpose of the Russians is and there is no ambiguity of what narratives they are pushing. And there is no ambiguity about the people they use to push them,” he added.
But Republicans are arguing that intelligence shows a Moscow effort to sow discord in the U.S. election and that it is only part of a wider foreign intervention that American intelligence is pursuing from other countries, including China and Iran.
“It is very clear that foreign governments want to ruin our elections. That the Iranians and the Chinese do not have much love for Trump,” said Senate Judiciary Chief Lindsey Graham when asked about Russia’s intentions. “The main thing is that they are playing in our yard – and that’s the big move,” he said.
While members of the House and Senate have received announcements in recent days, sources tell CNN that presidential campaigns are also aware of intelligence suggesting that Russian disinformation efforts have focused specifically on Biden. The Trump and Biden campaigns both declined to comment when asked if their reports included information about Russia targeting the former president.
Lawmakers oppose Russia’s intentions
Democrats are making the case that intelligence reviewed by members of Congress and both campaigns adds to a broader Russian intervention effort aimed at undermining Biden’s candidacy and, in turn, aiding President Donald Trump.
However, Republicans argue that there is no clear evidence that foreign actors seeking to intervene in the 2020 race prefer one candidate over the other.
Meanwhile, the intelligence community has been cautious about giving up by publicly suggesting that Russia prefers one candidate over the other.
Intelligence and law enforcement officials familiar with the reports have expressed disappointment that some lawmakers have sought to politicize the information. Some Republicans seemed to minimize information about foreign interference while some Democrats focused only on information related to Russia, officials say.
Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – which the American intelligence community believes was intended to strengthen Trump’s candidacy and harm his opponent, Hillary Clinton – led to the investigation of special adviser Robert Mueller. The prospect of intervention in 2020 will further test U.S. defenses against foreign interference, which Trump has repeatedly criticized, as he has dismissed any suggestion that Kremlin influence may have played a role in his election. .
Democrats have stopped saying whether intelligence officials have clearly told them Russia is working to harm Biden or to help Trump, but some lawmakers told CNN on Thursday that information given in recent reports suggests that foreign governments are working to assist individual candidates.
“My impression is … their model has been to seek to help specific candidates,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Thursday, referring to foreign intervention efforts in general.
This is in line with Russia’s broader strategy, which focuses on influencing voter turnout for candidates based on preference, according to Michael Chertoff, a Republican who previously served as Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
“It’s not so much that they necessarily think they’re going to change your vote from one candidate to another. It’s about depressing turnout for candidates they don’t like and raising turnout for candidates they like,” Chertoff told CNN. .
“But above all, it is about creating uncertainty and doubt and lack of trust in our political leadership … which is really a way of saying that information campaigns are a tool of conflict,” he added.
Republicans backed down when asked if they saw evidence that Russia was helping Trump.
Acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio would not say whether he thinks Russia is working to help a specific candidate, telling CNN “their ultimate goal is to divide our country and take it.” him to fight with one another. “
Asked again if Moscow was trying to help Trump, the Republican in Florida said that “the electoral landscape, the landscape of interference, has become too complex … none of these people are Republicans or Democrats.”
“They want to force us to fight against each other. There are many nations now involved in this. And stay tuned,” he added.
Democrats continue to pressure to release classified information
Evanina came under fire from Democratic leaders last month when he last issued a warning about Russia, China and Iran’s efforts to intervene in the next election, after lawmakers claimed his statement “did not go”. “So far in equipping the American people with the knowledge they need, the way foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process.”
Democrats, however, have continued to pressure the administration to put more information on the American public, something intelligence officials insist they plan to do in the near future, but offered few indications about a schedule.
Sen. Mark Warner, a senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also told CNN on Thursday that it is important that the administration “warn the American people about what nations are trying to intervene and they are shutting down China, Russia and Iran – and what “Some of their tactics are so that Americans are not fooled by misinformation and misinformation programs.”
Warner, however, would not say whether it is clear that intelligence indicates that Russia favors a specific candidate, telling CNN that he will “continue to put pressure on the administration” to find out more and that he has “a lot of confidence in Bill Evanina “that the initial statement” will be the first in a series of “concessions from the US government.
Meanwhile, intelligence officials are taking a cautious line when it comes to addressing the issue of interfering in foreign elections publicly for a variety of reasons, including concerns that certain information will be politicized and potential risks to resources and methods.
They have been particularly cautious about detailing Russia’s actions and addressing the public the question of whether Moscow is intervening again to help Trump and hurt his opponent, as was the case during the 2016 election, after the intelligence community assessed unanimously that it happened in 2016.
CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.