Senators left Monday’s briefing saying they expected more information to be released to the public in the coming weeks. But Democrats argued that the public is still too much in the dark about the campaign that Russian-linked operatives are running to try to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee — information they’ve charged is being provided to Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson as part of his investigation into Biden, his son and Ukraine.
“There’s a clear narrative being perpetuated by Russia and Russia’s allies. I don’t know everybody that the Homeland Security is talking to, but what I know is the narrative they are working off of is the very same narrative that the Russians are trying to push domestically,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat. “So I remain very concerned about the lack of information that the public has and the damage that may do to the election.”
The push for intelligence officials to say more publicly follows pointed criticism Democratic leaders issued last month over a public statement the intelligence community’s top election official issued saying multiple countries were trying to interfere in the 2020 election. Democrats had demanded the FBI brief Congress on what they described as a foreign disinformation targeting the presidential election, which CNN and other media outlets have reported included concerns that Russian-linked entities were providing information about Biden to Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican.
“The (intelligence community) has a natural tendency to want to, obviously protect sources and methods, which I strongly agree with, but they always have a tendency to try to, by their nature, always want to pull things back,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the four Democrats who sent the letter to the FBI. “I think they’re getting better but I think we have room for further improvement.”
Johnson has denied receiving any Russian disinformation, and he’s accused Democrats of running their own disinformation campaign to try to discredit his probe and protect their presidential nominee from scrutiny.
Asked if his investigation came up at Monday’s briefing, Johnson said no. “There’s nothing about what we’re doing that affects election security,” he added.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said Monday that “there should be more information” released to the public about Johnson’s probe. “We had a good briefing today,” he added, declining to say if Johnson’s probe was discussed.
Monday’s all-Senate briefings came after House members were briefed by election security officials on Friday, in which CNN reported intelligence officials discounted the possibility of foreign countries mass producing fake ballots, contradicting President Donald Trump‘s continued insistence that mail-in voting poses a significant threat to election security.
Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio defended the intelligence community, saying it would be putting out more information about election security threats as the election neared.
“On a regular basis now, you’re going to see notifications and things coming out from the director of national intelligence and those who work for him,” said Rubio.
“I don’t know how anyone can leave 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,” the Florida Republican added when asked if the briefing should satisfy Democrats’ concerns.
Senate Democrats largely praised Monday’s classified briefings — which included Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, and Bill Evanina, the career intelligence official who issued the statement Democrats slammed that Russia, China and Iran were seeking to interfere in 2020 — even as they said more needed to be released publicly.
Asked as he was leaving the Capitol if Russian disinformation was discussed Monday, Ratcliffe said “classified briefing” and did not elaborate.
Democrats said they received useful information from the briefers, which included officials from across the federal government dealing with election security.
“I think that our intelligence agencies are working hard on this, and more information will be forthcoming,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. “We got some important information, but I believe there’s more to come.”
“It was helpful,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, noting that it underscored the need for states to receive election funding. “I think the public should learn much more, and I hope that will come out.”