Spy Agencies Reject Trump Claim of China Election Meddling
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. intelligence community concluded with “high confidence” that China didn’t attempt to change the outcome of the 2020 election, an assessment that contradicts repeated assertions by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
“We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence wrote in an unclassified report released on Tuesday. “China sought stability in its relationship with the United States” and “did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling.”
The agencies also found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered influence operations to hurt President Joe Biden’s candidacy, favoring Trump just as the intelligence community says he did in 2016 against then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.,” the report found. Russia has long denied meddling in U.S. elections.
Despite efforts to sway voter opinion, the intelligence agencies concluded that no foreign actors “attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process.” It said there was no foreign interference with “voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results,” despite allegations to the contrary by some of Trump’s supporters after he lost.
Before last year’s election, Trump and key allies repeatedly raised the specter of Chinese interference. The president ridiculed FBI Director Christopher Wray for telling Congress before the vote that Russia was seeking to hurt Biden’s presidential campaign through social media and influence operations.
China “is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia,” Trump said in a tweet in September.
In December, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe held up completion of the report that was released Tuesday, saying it needed to more fully reflect the national security threat posed by China, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the information.
Russia’s efforts included using proxies linked to its intelligence services to push misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against Biden to prominent people in the U.S., “including some close to former President Trump and his administration,” according to the intelligence report. Specifically, Putin oversaw activities conducted by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who played a prominent role in Russia’s election influence activities, according to the report.
Although the declassified report released Tuesday didn’t name such people close to Trump, Derkach met with the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was attempting to obtain disparaging information about Biden and his son before the election. Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine to damage Biden contributed to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach in September, calling him a Russian agent who tried to interfere in the 2020 election.
In addition, Tuesday’s report said Iran sought to hurt Trump’s 2020 candidacy.
“Iran carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s re-election prospects -- though without directly promoting his rivals -- undermine public confidence in the electoral process and U.S. institutions, and sow division and exacerbate societal tensions in the U.S.,” according to the report.
The intelligence community also determined that Lebanese Hezbollah, Cuba and Venezuela were involved in small-scale efforts to influence the election while cyber criminals -- likely driven by financial interests -- disrupted some preparations for the vote.
With regard to China, however, the report includes a minority view section saying “China took at least some steps to undermine former President Trump’s re-election chances, primarily through social media and official public statements and media.” That view was held by the office of the national intelligence officer for cybersecurity.
Separately, the Justice Department, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security also released a joint report on Tuesday that no evidence was found that any foreign government manipulated election results.
“The Departments investigated multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments owned, directed or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed or otherwise manipulated vote counts,” according to the five-page report. “The Departments found that those claims were not credible.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.