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Top Democrats Sound Alarm About Election Interference


FILE - Every voting booth was filled by Madison County voters, November 6, 2018, as they filled out their paper ballots in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
FILE - Every voting booth was filled by Madison County voters, November 6, 2018, as they filled out their paper ballots in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

A key group of lawmakers is warning that the U.S. Congress may be the target of a campaign by foreign actors to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.

The warning from Democratic members of the so-called Gang of Eight, which includes the Speaker of the House, the Senate Minority Leader and the top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees, comes in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, demanding a briefing for all lawmakers by the end of the month.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote in the July 13 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The letter shares few other details but cites “the seriousness and specificity of these threats,” as a reason for the urgent, classified briefing.

The FBI told VOA it received the letter but declined further comment.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which announced in May that it would lead “all intelligence-based threat briefings to candidates, campaigns and political organizations,” also declined to comment on the concerns.

But a spokesperson noted that officials have continued to brief lawmakers on election security threats.

It remains unclear whether key Republican leaders in Congress supported the call for an urgent counterintelligence briefing. VOA requests to the top Republican lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees went unanswered.

Fears about efforts by U.S. adversaries, including Russia and China, trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential election in November are not new.

In a statement ahead of key primary elections this past March, multiple government agencies, including the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and ODNI warned that voters must “remain aware that foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions.”

More recently, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, said he was warned about Russian and Chinese efforts.

“We know from before — and I guarantee you I know now, because now I get briefings again — the Russians are still engaged in trying to delegitimize our electoral process,” he told supporters during an online fundraiser last week.

He added in a statement Monday that, if elected, his administration would respond to election interference by imposing “substantial and lasting costs on state perpetrators,” with measures that include “financial-sector sanctions, asset freezes, cyber responses, and the exposure of corruption.”

Other Democrats have also raised concerns.

The ranking Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees sent a letter to their Republican counterparts last week asking for a briefing from the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force and other relevant intelligence officials.

The letter, which cited reporting by The Washington Post, expressed concerns about pro-Russian Ukrainian operatives and material they may have offered the two committees in connection with an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter.

Despite such concerns, U.S. officials have sought to assure Americans that the vote itself will be secure when they head to the polls in a little less than three and a half months.

“I've said it before and I'll say it again — the 2020 election will be the most secure election in modern history," Chris Krebs, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said Friday.

He added that there are also no indications that Russia, China or anyone else is actively trying to interfere with U.S. election systems.

“We're not seeing that level of coordinated, determined cyberactivity,” Krebs said.

Other top officials are promising that any interference from a potential cyberattack to a disinformation campaign will be met by a strong response.

"We're going to act," General Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cybercommand, said during a webinar Monday.

"We're going to act when we see adversaries attempting to interfere in our elections,” he said. "Our No. 1 goal, our No. 1 objective at the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command — a safe, secure and legitimate 2020 election."

White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman contributed to this report.