2016 again? Russia back to stirring chaos in US election

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2016 again? Russia back to stirring chaos in US election

Friday, February 21, 2020

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WASHINGTON, United States (AP) — Just weeks into this year's election cycle, Russia already is actively interfering in the US presidential campaign in hopes of reelecting President Donald Trump, and is also trying to help the candidacy of Sen Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, intelligence officials have concluded.

The Russian efforts are aimed at undermining public confidence in the integrity of US elections and stirring general chaos in American politics, intelligence experts say.

Lawmakers were told in a classified briefing last week that Russia is taking steps that would help Trump, according to officials familiar with the briefing. And Sanders acknowledged Friday that he was briefed last month by US officials about Russian efforts to boost his candidacy.

The revelations demonstrate that the spectre of foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election will almost certainly be a cloud over the campaign, and possibly even the final results if the contest is close. Democrats have consistently criticized Trump for not doing more to deter the Russians and others, and now they have fresh evidence to support their concerns.

There were some conflicting accounts about what the briefers had revealed about Russia’s intentions. One intelligence official said that members were not told in the briefing that Russia was working to directly aid Trump. But advancing Sanders’ candidacy could be seen as beneficial to Trump’s reelection prospects.

"That Russia would put its national intelligence apparatus in an operational mode to enhance Sanders and attack (Joe) Biden and others is only natural," said Malcolm Nance, a veteran intelligence officer who wrote a book on meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “A damaged Sanders or one who would lose at a brokered convention would ... assure another Trump victory.”

Sanders condemned Russia and called on President Vladimir Putin to steer clear of US politics.

“I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president," Sanders said. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.”

Trump, acknowledging nothing, took a different tack in responding to news that the House Intelligence Committee earlier this month had been briefed by US intelligence experts that Russia was attempting to ensure his reelection.

On Friday he sought to minimize the new warnings by his government intelligence experts and revived old grievances in claiming any problem was just Democrats trying to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.

The president started the day on Twitter, claiming that Democrats were pushing a “misinformation campaign” in hopes of politically damaging him.

Later, making light of the intelligence findings at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, he suggested that Russia might actually prefer Sanders in the White House.

“Wouldn't he rather have, let’s say, Bernie?” Trump said. ”Wouldn’t he rather have Bernie, who honeymooned in Moscow?"

A senior intelligence official with knowledge about the briefing said the handful of US election security briefers did not tell Intelligence Committee members in so many words that Russia was "aiding the re-election of President Trump".

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified briefing, said the briefers covered election threats from Russia, China, Iran, non-state actors, hacktivists and ransomware, but that both Democrats and Republicans homed in on Russia's activities.

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