Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki Summit, July 16, 2018
The US intelligence community assesses that Russia is again intervening on behalf of Donald Trump in American elections.
Friday’s statement by William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, raised the prospect of a repeat of the 2016 election, when Russia worked with the Trump campaign to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and bolster Trump’s chances for victory.
Evanina said Moscow is trying to prevent a triumph by 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden:
Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment”. This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia.
Evanina, a Trump appointee, warned that “Kremlin-linked actors” are spreading false claims about corruption to undermine Biden and trying to “boost President Trump’s candidacy via social media and Russian television”.
He spoke of Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russia Ukrainian politician, “spreading claims about corruption – including through publicized leaked phone calls” to attack Biden’s campaign.
Derkach has met repeatedly with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who spearheaded a 10-month campaign from November 2018 to spread disinformation about Biden and press Ukrainian officials to back Trump. The effort was halted after Trump’s pressure on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky led to impeachment hearings and Trump’s trial in the Senate in January.
Chinese and Iranian Operations
Evanina also wrote of interventions by Iran and China, amid Trump’s comprehensive sanctions on Tehrna and trade and technology war against the Chinese. He said of Beijing:
We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win re-election. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China.
Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the Presidential race.
The official pointed to China’s criticism of Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, the closure of the Chinese Consulate in Houston, Texas, and the White House responses to a Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong and naval operations in the South China Sea.
The statement assessed the Islamic Republic’s efforts to provoke divisions in US society and to undermine democratic institutions:
Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on on-line influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content. Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of US pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.
Trump responded in a rambling statement at his New Jersey golf club on Friday evening,
I think that the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump because nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have, ever.
China would love us to have an election where Donald Trump lost to…Joe Biden. They would own our country. If Joe Biden was president, China would own our country….Iran would love to see me not be President.