The Washington Post reports that United States national security officials have been bracing for a Russian attack on the 2020 presidential race. In recent months, officials have shared intelligence regarding foreign disinformation efforts with social media companies, tracked cyber threats, and aided state election officials to help them protect their systems from foreign influences.
But as the effort to stop foreign manipulation charges ahead, President Donald Trump has ignored warnings from his senior aides about Russia and downplays the influence that the country has on American politics, even after the Mueller report documented Russian interference in the 2016 election. And Trump's position has reportedly made it more difficult for government officials to protect the electoral process, according to former and current officials.
In a 2017 meeting with the president, advisers tried to discuss available options the government could use to prevent Russian operations.
"It's a godd**n hoax," Trump supposedly said, per The Washington Post report.
And Trump isn't likely the only one in his administration with this view. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, brushed off the significance of Russian interference in the 2016 election as the country bought "some Facebook ads." Not only that, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump's lawyers, told CNN that "there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians."
After Kushner made his comments, Senator Lindsey O. Graham addressed them on CBS News' Face the Nation and disagreed.
"I like Jared a lot, but. . . this is a big deal. It's not just a few Facebook ads. They were very successful in pitting one American against the other. . . and they actually got into the campaign email system of the Democratic Party. An attack on one party is an attack on all."But other senior security officials say that Trump has been helpful in some situations. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said that he directed his team to ensure that the 2018 midterm elections were protected. Coats said that Trump was receptive to ideas and "quickly agreed and also encouraged several of us to speak to the American people. That support has not changed."
Regardless, the FBI established a Foreign Influence Task Force in 2017 to monitor potential operations of foreign influence. Thus far, the department has reached out to officials in 50 states to help secure the election infrastructures and is also sharing data on threats with state and local election offices, political parties, social media firms, and others. In addition, officials claim that protective measures are being taken even in the absence of explicit direction from the White House.
"We have clear authorities. We have budget. We're grown-ups here."