WASHINGTON — Just days after the Senate Intelligence Committee’s explosive new report on the Trump campaign’s vulnerability to Russian influence in 2016, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is warning that the upcoming presidential election is again at risk.
The new report, nearly 1,000 pages long, goes into extensive detail about the relationships between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials, including a close bond between President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and a Russian intelligence official, Konstantin Kilimnik.
“People want to know what is the big worry today,” Wyden said in an interview with Yahoo News amid the ongoing Democratic National Convention. “I think the big issue today is the fact that Donald Trump and current Republican Senate leaders are now pursuing Russian disinformation, and they’re doing it in a way that is a direct threat to America.”
“The reason I’ve come to that conclusion is that their approach to disinformation basically throws open the doors to hostile foreign powers who could manipulate our government through our elected officials,” he said.
Wyden, one of the most outspoken members of the secretive Senate Intelligence Committee, has expressed concerns about the Senate GOP’s continuing investigation into Ukraine and former Vice President Joe Biden. In May, Wyden said that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., the chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, has utilized his position “to chase right-wing conspiracy theories.”
In early August, top counterintelligence official Bill Evanina singled out a pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian, Andriy Derkach, for “spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy.” Johnson, who has denied that he is “being used to disseminate Russian disinformation,” has publicly admitted that his investigation could help Trump win in November.
Wyden, however, remains concerned about the GOP efforts, and in May, he urged his colleagues to get briefings from the intelligence community on ongoing Russian disinformation efforts.
“The first thing is: These key Senate Republican leaders need to knock off this disinformation operation, because I think that’s what’s particularly serious,” he said.
Earlier this week, Wyden sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray. He expressed his concerns that the bureau has mounted a “‘surge’ of effort” to respond to Republican subpoenas for information relating to Operation Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Meanwhile, he argued, giving copious details, it has failed to provide Democrats with access to the same documents.
Wyden told Yahoo News he has not yet received a response to his letter. “It’s clear to me the FBI has a double standard with access to information,” he said.
The intelligence community needs to be as transparent as possible, Wyden insisted, joining a chorus of his colleagues who have been pushing top intelligence officials to declassify any information that might involve a foreign enemy trying to sway American public opinion or disrupt the voting process. “We don’t have much time left,” Wyden stressed.
In addition to foreign influence, Wyden also says that one of his biggest concerns for a safe and secure election remains Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service.
“He’s made it very clear that he’s going to go out and say that vote by mail is tainted by rampant fraud,” said Wyden. “I just want to make sure people can vote safely in a pandemic.”
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