Evanina specifically accused Andrii Derkach, a Kremlin-linked Ukrainian lawmaker, of “spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Others linked to the Kremlin are aiming to boost Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television, Evanina said.
Derkach has set off alarms among Democrats who suspect he has seeded anti-Biden propaganda into ongoing Republican-led congressional investigations. The new assessment also means Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump ally, met in Ukraine during the president’s impeachment with someone the intelligence community has now deemed an agent of a Russian disinformation plot. Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.
Evanina’s statement came after his previous comments on the topic infuriated congressional Democrats for equating Russia’s interference efforts with those by China and Iran. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week chastised Evanina behind closed doors for withholding details about the Kremlin’s efforts, POLITICO first reported.
In response, top intelligence officials have vowed to deliver more specifics about such threats, both to lawmakers and the American public.
Friday’s statement could rekindle Democrats’ criticisms of Evanina, who also said intelligence officials have assessed that China “prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection.”
While Beijing “will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues,” Evanina said.
The statement points to the administration’s rhetoric on Hong Kong, TikTok, 5G technology and the legal status of the South China Sea as reasons China’s government wants Trump to lose: “Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.”
Trump has said repeatedly that China prefers Biden, and his allies have tried to brand the former vice president as “Beijing Biden.” Biden has rejected that, while Democrats have been critical of the president’s occasional praise of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Similar to Evanina’s previous statement, it notes that Iran “seeks to undermine U.S. democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections” through various online activities. The Iranian regime is partly “driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” Evanina said.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee thanked Evanina for his latest warning.
“Evanina’s statement highlights some of the serious and ongoing threats to our election from China, Russia, and Iran,” said Intelligence chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Warner (Va.), the committee’s top Democrat.
“Everyone — from the voting public, local officials, and members of Congress — needs to be aware of these threats. And all of us should endeavor to prevent outside actors from being able to interfere in our elections, influence our politics, and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions,” they added.
A DNI official stressed that there is “no particular rank or order by which the threat actors are listed in the statement issued today. Each of these adversaries poses a threat to our election and it’s imperative that we all work together as a nation to combat them.”
Tony Blinken, a former deputy secertary of State and senior member of Biden’s campaign, said Trump has “publicly and repeatedly invited, emboldened, and event tried to coerce foreign interference in American elections,” going on to allege that the president has sought China’s help in his re-election and attempted to “blackmail” his Ukrainian counterpart, which ultimately led his impeachment.
“Joe Biden, on the other hand, has led the fight against foreign interference for years, and has refused to accept any foreign materials intended to help him in this election — something that Donald Trump and his campaign have repeatedly failed to do,” Blinken added.
In a joint statement Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Evanina’s latest assessment “improves” on the last one, saying they are glad he “heeded our call to make additional details public about Russia’s malign interference campaign and Mr. Derkach’s role.”
But, they added, the statement “still treats three actors of differing intent and capability as equal threats to our democratic elections.”
“We hope and expect that the intelligence community will be even more forthcoming with the public moving forward, and we will continue to press for greater transparency,” Pelosi and Schiff vowed.
National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said the U.S. “will not tolerate foreign interference in our electoral processes and will respond to malicious foreign threats that target our democratic institutions.”
He went on to criticize the Obama administration for an “overly bureaucratic process that had prevented our nation from defending itself in cyberspace,” adding the Trump White House “stands ready to respond to foreign threats with consequences that leverage the full spectrum of instruments of national power.”
Meanwhile, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the intelligence community assessment that China and Iran would like to see Trump defeated is “concerning, but clearly because he has held them accountable after years of coddling by politicians like Joe Biden.
“If anyone should face questions about foreign interference in 2020, it’s Joe Biden’s campaign,” Murtuagh said in a statement. “We don’t need or want foreign interference, and President Trump will beat Joe Biden fair and square.”
Speaking during the annual DEF CON event, David Imbordino, the NSA co-lead of a joint election security task force with U.S. Cyber Command, declined to rank the threat represented by each of the three countries mentioned in Evanina’s statement.
“Russia, China, Iran, they all have intent and they all do activities that they think are advancing their best interest,” he said. “I don’t think I would say one is scarier than the other, per se.”
Eric Geller contributed to this report.