The U.S. intelligence community is preparing to disclose more information to the public about foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election, top senators said Monday, as Democrats continue to push the Trump administration to detail Russia’s intentions.
Their assessments came after senior officials, including Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, briefed senators in a classified setting in the Capitol on Monday about foreign efforts to meddle in the campaign, in addition to other issues related to election security.
Much of the discussion in both sessions Monday afternoon centered on how much information to share with the public, according to two sources familiar with the briefings. National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina, the nation’s top counterintelligence official, was also in attendance.
“It’s an ongoing process. This is not the end,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters after attending one of the briefings. “I think every week now, on a regular basis, you’re going to see notifications and things come out from the director of national intelligence and people who work for him.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who attended a briefing on Monday, also said the intelligence community would be disclosing additional information.
“I think that our intelligence agencies are working hard on this. And more information will be forthcoming,” said Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We got some important information, but I believe there’s more to come.”
Democrats and Republicans have been sparring over how much information about foreign influence campaigns should be made public, especially in light of recent intelligence reports that Democrats say call into question the reliability of a GOP-led Senate investigation targeting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Democrats have been openly pressuring the Trump administration to be more specific about Russia’s interference operation, which lawmakers say is more sophisticated than it was in 2016. Even though many Democrats said they were satisfied with what they heard on Monday, it wasn’t enough to placate those who have been pushing the hardest for additional public disclosures.
“If the administration knows that there are foreign agents operating in the context of an American election, they need to tell the public,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “I mean, that’s just not something that should be kept secret. It’s in no one’s interest.”
Democrats recently slammed Evanina after he issued a statement that they said was not specific enough about the threats to the integrity of the 2020 election — specifically the Ukrainians with alleged ties to Russian intelligence who are seeking to feed information about the Bidens to Trump-friendly lawmakers.
Those tensions boiled over on Friday, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi confronted Evanina during a similar classified briefing for all House members. Pelosi accused Evanina of keeping the public in the dark about Russia’s intentions, POLITICO previously reported.
Evanina eventually acknowledged that Russia is again trying to boost President Donald Trump and damage Biden, according to sources who attended the briefing, and he said Ratcliffe would reveal more details at the annual congressional hearings on worldwide national security threats.
Democrats want Evanina, Ratcliffe and other officials to say as much publicly and to be specific about it. Top congressional Democrats sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray last month demanding an urgent briefing for all members of Congress on what they called an effort by foreign actors to “launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity.”
The classified attachment to that letter names Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) investigation targeting Biden and his son, which Democrats say is a Russian disinformation front that harms U.S. national security and promotes Kremlin-backed conspiracy theories.
Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has vehemently denied those charges and has accused Democrats of promoting their own disinformation campaign aimed at tarring him and his investigations.
“There’s nothing about what we’re doing that affects election security,” Johnson said after attending a briefing.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Murphy asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if Andrii Derkach — one of the Ukrainian lawmakers who has sent information about the Bidens to Johnson and other members of Congress — is trustworthy.
Pompeo declined to answer, and Murphy has highlighted the exchange to underscore the Trump administration’s reluctance to be more specific about efforts by foreigners to denigrate Biden.
“There’s a clear narrative being perpetuated by Russia and Russia’s allies. I don’t know everybody that the Homeland Security Committee is talking to, but I know that the narrative that they are working off of is the very same narrative that the Russians are trying to push domestically,” Murphy said Monday.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Johnson’s counterpart atop the panel, declined to comment on whether Johnson’s investigations were mentioned during Monday’s briefing, but he said “there should be more information available” about the probes. Like several other Democrats, Peters indicated that he was satisfied with the briefing.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) previously suggested to POLITICO that top intelligence officials might be facing political pressure from the White House or the president about how much information about the Russian influence campaign to make public.
Warner on Monday said the intelligence community was “getting better” when it comes to sharing that information.
“The IC has a natural tendency to want to obviously protect sources and methods, which I strongly agree with,” Warner told reporters. “But they also have a tendency to try to, by their nature, want to hold things back. And I think they’re getting better, but I think we’ve got room for further improvement.”
Rubio has strongly pushed back on claims that administration officials are withholding information for political reasons, and he previously called Democrats’ earlier letter to Wray a “partisan” one.
“I can tell you, I don’t know how anyone could read any of these briefings that we’ve had around here with the notion that our career intelligence professionals are in any way deliberately trying to keep things from the American people,” Rubio said.
“But it’s a serious and ongoing threat with multiple players in this field now.”