Senate Republicans are a vehicle for ‘laundering’ Russian influence campaign in 2020 election

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Last week the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was still working to secure witness depositions for current and former advisers to Joe Biden as part of an investigation into the former vice president’s son, an escalation of GOP scrutiny of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his family. You remember, the l’affaire Ukraine for which Donald Trump was impeached, and Ron Johnson voted to acquit him. Senate Republicans eye subpoenas of Biden advisers in Burisma probe:

Johnson is seeking testimony from former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a senior foreign policy adviser on Biden’s campaign; former special envoy for International Energy Amos Hochstein; and former senior State Department officials Victoria Nuland and Catherine Novelli.

The panel has also scheduled an interview with David Wade, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry. But the committee views testimony from Blinken and Hochstein in particular as critical for its forthcoming report on allegations surrounding Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

The subpoenas could be authorized as soon as Wednesday, when the committee holds its next business meeting. The current agenda does not list actions related to the Burisma investigation, though that could change.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, “Leningrad Lindsey” Graham said he intends to grill former special counsel Robert Mueller about alleged flaws in the FBI’s investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. Lindsey Graham previews Mueller interrogation:

“He has a lot to account for — and we’ll see how he does” at a potential hearing, Graham (R-S.C.) told former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on a Fox News podcast.

Graham, who described himself as “hellbent” on investigating those who investigated President Donald Trump’s team, said he intends to press Mueller about a raft of developments since the former FBI chief testified to the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees nearly a year ago — from a watchdog’s finding that crucial surveillance warrants were riddled with errors to the discovery that the FBI briefly intended to drop its case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

These “Moscow Mules” are using Russian disinformation propaganda to attack U.S. intelligence agencies and the Justice Department because Putin’s Puppet, Donald Trump, wants them to investigate (and to prosecute) the investigators who uncovered his traitorous collusion with Russia in the 2016 election.

Congressional Democrats are having none of it. Politico reports Dem leaders demand FBI briefing on ‘foreign interference campaign’ targeting lawmakers:

Democratic leaders are asking the FBI for an urgent briefing arising out of concern that members of Congress are being targeted by a foreign operation intended to influence the 2020 presidential election, according to a letter they released publicly on Monday.

Among the Democrats’ concerns is that a Senate investigation being led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has become a vehicle for “laundering” a foreign influence campaign to damage Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, according to two people familiar with the demand.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded the all-Congress briefing Monday, citing “specific” intelligence that a foreign influence operation targeted lawmakers to “launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity.”

Though the letter did not mention the Johnson investigation, it included a classified addendum that the two sources say identified the probe as one of the sources of their concern.

“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,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in their letter, which was also signed by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

“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 and that the briefing draw on all-source intelligence information and analysis, consistent with due regard for the protection of sensitive intelligence sources and methods,” they continued.

All four Democratic signatories are members of the Gang of Eight, a group of eight lawmakers who are briefed on classified intelligence by the executive branch.

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The letter’s authors did not publicly offer additional details about the nature of the counterintelligence threat they described. But lawmakers of both parties have warned for months that foreign powers like Russia are intent on interfering in the 2020 U.S. election process — including, Democrats say, through Johnson’s investigation, which targets Biden’s son Hunter.

The probe centers on claims that a Democratic public-relations firm sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, to influence the State Department under the Obama administration. Johnson has asked several former State Department officials to testify, and he is eyeing subpoenas as soon as this week if they do not agree to appear for depositions voluntarily.

Johnson renewed his demand for transcribed interviews and documents from the former officials days after a Ukrainian lawmaker — Andriy Derkach, who has met with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to discuss investigating the Biden family — used a news conference to accuse the Bidens and Amos Hochstein, a former special envoy for international energy affairs at the State Department, of an elaborate conspiracy to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from Ukraine.

The last time senators were briefed on election security and foreign influence operations, Democratic lawmakers confronted Johnson behind closed doors about his investigation, arguing that it threatens the integrity of the 2020 election and relies on Russian disinformation to tar a political opponent.

They cited in particular Johnson’s initial effort to subpoena Andrii Telizhenko, who has pushed unsubstantiated claims about coordination between the Ukrainian government and the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Johnson dropped plans to subpoena Telizhenko after the FBI’s foreign influence task force briefed senators about him, focusing on concerns over his credibility.

Last week, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, renewed his request for defensive briefings from the FBI as Johnson’s investigation intensifies.

Some Senate Republicans, too, have previously signaled unease with Johnson’s investigation. In December, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, privately told Johnson that his inquiry could aid Russia, according to two congressional sources familiar with the meeting. And even “Leningrad Lindsey” Graham (R-S.C.) warned in February that any derogatory information coming out of Ukraine about any American should be vetted by intelligence agencies because “Russia is playing us all like a fiddle.”

Graham has since changed his mind to do the bidding of his puppet master, “Dear Leader.” Senate Republicans are laundering Russian disinformation through sham investigations of Joe Biden and Stalinist show trials of the Russia investigators to help Donald Trump. They are either Russian assets or useful idiots doing Russia’s bidding to interfere in the 2020 election.

Vice President Joe Biden is the one standing up to Vladimir Putin and defending the national security of the United States, something Putin’s puppet Donald Trump has never done and will never do. Biden, lawmakers warn of foreign interference in election:

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he is putting Russia and other foreign governments “on notice” that he would act aggressively as president to counter any interference in U.S. elections. The statement came hours after Democratic leaders issued a new warning that Congress appears to be the target of a foreign interference campaign.

Biden said in a statement Monday that he would treat foreign interference as an “an adversarial act that significantly affects the relationship between the United States and the interfering nation’s government.” He criticized President Donald Trump for not doing enough in response to U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“If any foreign power recklessly chooses to interfere in our democracy, I will not hesitate to respond as president to impose substantial and lasting costs,” Biden said.

The new alarms give a renewed urgency to concerns that foreign actors could be trying to influence the vote or sow disinformation. Biden said last week that he had begun receiving intelligence briefings and warned that Russia, China and other adversaries were attempting to undermine the presidential election. Biden gave no evidence, but he said that Russia was “still engaged” after 2016 and that China was also involved in efforts to sow doubts in the American electoral process.

During an online fundraiser Monday night, Biden added: “It’s going to be tough, there’s not much I can do about it now except talk about it, and expose it, but it is a serious concern. It is truly a violation of our sovereignty.”

And in an interview with Joy Reid on MSNBC, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “knows I mean what I say.”

While Biden criticized Trump for not acting more aggressively against Russia, his pledge that his intelligence community would report “publicly and in a timely manner” on any foreign efforts to interfere in an American election also appeared to be a course correction of sorts to the approach of the Obama administration, which waited months after Russian hacks of Democratic email accounts in 2016 to officially attribute them to Moscow.

Officials did so only after a rigorous internal debate over what they should say. Even when the administration did issue its October 2016 statement blaming Russia for the hacks, it did not mention Putin by name nor an ongoing effort to determine whether the Kremlin’s election interference efforts were being coordinated with the Trump campaign.

This was because “Moscow Mitch” McConnell objected to a forceful warning to Russia. Mitch McConnell should explain why he obscured Russian interference in our election:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should explain why he blocked a bipartisan denunciation of Russian interference in our election before voters went to the polls.

Americans deserve to hear why McConnell did not trust them with the evidence that he and 11 other congressional leaders received in a confidential briefing in September.

The Washington Post reports that during that briefing McConnell “made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.”

McConnell also questioned the veracity of the intelligence, according to The Post, based on information from unidentified officials present at the September briefing.

McConnell would not answer reporters’ questions about the Post’s account. He passed up the opportunity to deny that he torpedoed the administration’s request for a bipartisan pre-election statement calling out the Russians.

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It remains to be seen whether congressional committees controlled by Republicans will bring real enthusiasm to investigating the Russian interference and its effects, or make their findings public.

If they hope to restore the trust of a large segment of the American public, they will err on the side of transparency, which is what McConnell should have done before the election.

Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election to Trump, said Monday she was “glad” Biden was speaking up. “It’s very clear that Russia succeeded,” she told MSNBC. “They believed that they were able to influence the minds and even the votes of Americans, so why would they stop?”

UPDATE: Given the Wisconsin Republican’s record of using talking points that line up with a Russian disinformation campaign, Johnson’s credibility in this area was already rather shaky. (h/t Steve Benen).

Russia has never stopped interfering, and now the Republican Party is a fellow traveler fifth column in the United States undermining our democracy to support Putin’s puppet, Donald Trump.




2 COMMENTS

  1. Watch out for the smokescreen! All the fuss about mail-in ballots, internet propaganda, and voter fraud could well be cover to head off any real attempt to prevent tampering with the software and hardware used to actually count votes. After all, why worry about influencing voters when you can simply rig the count?

    • I haven’t forgotten because I actually read the report. “Mueller report: Russia hacked state databases and voting machine companies”, https://www.rollcall.com/2019/04/22/mueller-report-russia-hacked-state-databases-and-voting-machine-companies/

      Victims of the Russian hacking operation “included U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections (SBOEs), secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities,” the report said. “The GRU also targeted private technology firms responsible for manufacturing and administering election-related software and hardware, such as voter registration software and electronic polling stations.”

      The Russian intelligence officers at GRU exploited known vulnerabilities on websites of state and local election offices by injecting malicious SQL code on such websites that then ran commands on underlying databases to extract information.

      Using those techniques in June 2016, “the GRU compromised the computer network of the Illinois State Board of Elections by exploiting a vulnerability in the SBOE’s website,” the report said. “The GRU then gained access to a database containing information on millions of registered Illinois voters, and extracted data related to thousands of U.S. voters before the malicious activity was identified.”


      The Orlando Sentinel reported that Volusia County was affected by the GRU attack. The paper said county officials received emails purporting to be from Tallahassee-based VR Systems, the company that likely fell victim to the attack.

      Last year, then Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., both warned Florida election systems were susceptible to Russian cyberattacks. Nelson, who lost the election to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, said Russians had gained access to Florida voter data but didn’t offer any details.

      The Mueller report said, “FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”

      Note: The most likely form of cyber attack will be with the “poll books” at polling locations. Voters will be told either that they are not on the voter roll, or told that their voter information does not match the information on the voter roll. This is to cause confusion and to disrupt voting with long lines to discourage voters. Voters should demand a provisional ballot, and then call your county recorder office AND the Election Protection Hotline, 886 OUR VOTE (866) 687-8683. Be prepared.

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