Republicans call on Democrats to stop ‘politicizing’ intelligence on 2020 election meddling

Two top Senate Republicans called upon the Democratic leadership to stop “politicizing intelligence matters” after Democrats criticized the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia, China, and Iran are all looking to interfere in the 2020 election.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and acting Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio said they were “disappointed” in Democrats in a brief statement on Sunday in support of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s Director Bill Evanina, who was criticized on Friday in a joint letter by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff after the intelligence official warned Congress and the public that multiple foreign adversaries were looking to meddle in November’s election.

The two Republicans said the nation was better prepared to fight against foreign interference in 2020 than it was under President Barack Obama back in 2016.

“Evanina is a career law enforcement and intelligence professional with extensive experience in counterintelligence. His reputation as a straight-shooter immune from politics is well-deserved. It is for this reason that Evanina received overwhelming support from the Senate when he was confirmed to be Director of the NCSC and again when the Administration tapped him to lead the nation’s efforts to protect the 2020 elections from foreign interference,” McConnell and Rubio said.

“We believe the statement baselessly impugns his character and politicizes intelligence matters,” they added. “Their manufactured complaint undercuts Director Evanina’s nonpartisan public outreach to increase Americans’ awareness of foreign influence campaigns right at the beginning of his efforts.”

Democrats said days ago that Evanina’s public statement “does not go nearly far enough in arming the American people with the knowledge they need about how foreign powers are seeking to influence our political process” and claimed that “the statement gives a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation, and capability together.”

They also said that Evanina’s assessment “fails to fully delineate the goal, nature, scope and capacity to influence our election” and that “to say without more, for example, that Russia seeks to ‘denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America’ is so generic as to be almost meaningless” and claimed “the statement omits much on a subject of immense importance.”

The Democrats said that “the Russians are once again trying to influence the election and divide Americans“ and that “a far more concrete and specific statement needs to be made to the American people” by the intelligence community. They avoided mentioning Chinese or Iranian meddling.

“At this time, we’re primarily concerned with China, Russia, and Iran ⁠— although other nation states and nonstate actors could also do harm to our electoral process. Our insights and judgments will evolve as the election season progresses,” Evanina last week.

“Russia’s persistent objective is to weaken the United States and diminish our global role,” he added, pointing to “a range of efforts, including internet trolls and other proxies,” while warning that “Russia continues to spread disinformation in the United States that is designed to undermine confidence in our democratic process and denigrate what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’ in America.”

The nation’s top counterintelligence official also said, “China is expanding its influence efforts to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and counter criticism of China.” He also noted that “Beijing recognizes its efforts might affect the presidential race.”

“Iran seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions and divide the country in advance of the elections,” Evanina additionally warned, noting that “Iran’s efforts center around online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content.”

“We will not discuss classified information in public, but we are confident that while the threat remains, we are far better prepared than four years ago,” McConnell and Rubio said. “The intelligence community, law enforcement, election officials, and others involved in securing our elections are far better postured, and Congress dramatically better informed, than any of us were in 2016 — and our Democrat colleagues know it.” The duo added that “our nation is safer with Director Evanina and his team on watch, and we hope our Democrat colleagues will set aside politics and stop undercutting these career professionals.”

Evanina’s announcement came the same week that the United States condemned Russian intelligence-linked hackers for attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research and indicted two Chinese secret police-linked hackers for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of trade secrets and for targeting U.S. research institutions for possible COVID-19 research. Last week, Iran also executed a man it claimed was a spy who helped the U.S. kill Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“Today, we see our adversaries seeking to compromise the private communications of U.S. political campaigns, candidates, and other political targets. Our adversaries also seek to compromise our election infrastructure, and we continue to monitor malicious cyber actors trying to gain access to U.S. state and federal networks, including those responsible for managing elections,” Evanina said. “However, the diversity of election systems among the states, multiple checks and redundancies in those systems, and post-election auditing all make it extraordinarily difficult for foreign adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies without detection.”

Congressional Democrats revealed last week that they sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray claiming that “Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign” related to the 2020 election.

“Gang of Eight (and others impacted) were already briefed. Weeks ago. This request is a CYA,” former acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell tweeted in response.

In March, ODNI officials told lawmakers they rejected a stream of media reports based on classified briefings on election security.

“The IC has not concluded that the Kremlin is directly aiding any candidate’s reelection or any other candidates’ election. Nor have we concluded that the Russians will definitely choose to try to do so in 2020,” the ODNI’s declassified fact sheet read. “This is not a Russia-only problem.”

Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, released in April 2019, said Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

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