The Russian government is supporting efforts to damage Joe Biden and boost President Trump, counterintelligence chief William Evanina said on Friday.
The statement from Evanina also says that China”prefers” for Trump to lose re-election to Biden.
The new announcement comes two weeks after Evanina released a similar, but less specific statement warning of interference by Russia, China, and Iran in the November elections.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reportedly chastised Evanina last week over the statement, accusing him of withholding key information about foreign meddling campaigns in the 2020 elections, including Russian support for President Trump’s re-election.
The new, Friday afternoon statement fell short of outright stating that Moscow wants Trump re-elected for a second term, instead noting that the Kremlin “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate” both Biden and “an anti-Russia ‘establishment.'”
The statement does name Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach as an example of those “measures.” Derkach, a graduate of Moscow’s Felix Dzerzhinsky Higher School of State Security, has spent much of 2020 releasing what appear to be edited recordings of phone calls between Biden and Ukraine’s president in 2016.
Derkach met with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in Kyiv in December 2019, giving him a packet of information about the Bidens.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who are running an investigation that drives at much of the same themes found in the Russian government-sponsored efforts to damage Biden, have denied that their probe has taken information from Derkach. The Ukrainian MP has said that he gave the senators information.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, would not say last week whether he took information from Derkach. House Democrats raised the issue after finding a DHL receipt for documents from the Ukrainian parliamentarian.
The new statement from the DNI also comes in the wake of failed efforts by Congress and the White House in 2016 to state clearly that the Russian government was meddling in that year’s elections. It was later reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said at a September 2016 meeting that he would refuse to sign on to any statement identifying the Russian government-backed meddling as being in support of the Trump campaign.
The new statement categorizes Russian efforts in the same league as those of Iran and China, saying that the latter two states prefer for Trump to lose. The statement also does not make explicit who Moscow would prefer to win.
“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” Evanina wrote, before listing the three efforts as having broadly the same objectives.
China, Evanina said, is running an influence campaign aimed at shaping U.S. policy towards Beijing.
“For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market,” Evanina wrote. “Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.”
Evanina drives at a similar conclusion with regard to Iran, saying that the Islamic Republic is “spreading disinformation on social media” partly because it believes that Trump’s reelection “would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”
In a statement released Friday evening, Reps. Pelosi and Adam Schiff (D-CA) thanked Evanina for naming Derkach and for saying that the Kremlin’s aim was to hurt Biden and boost Trump.
But the Democratic leaders accused Evanina of treating “three actors of differing intent and capability as equal threats to our democratic elections.”
“Members of Congress have now been briefed on the specific threats facing the 2020 election, and we have been clear with the Intelligence Community that the American people must be provided with specific information that would allow voters to appraise for themselves the respective threats posed by these foreign actors, and distinguish these actors’ different and unequal aims, current actions, and capabilities,” the two members of congress said.