China, Russia and Iran are among countries seeking to influence the US presidential election this year, a top US intelligence chief has warned.
A statement issued by the director of US counterintelligence said foreign states are using “covert and overt influence measures” to sway the vote.
These nations “have a preference for who wins the election,” it added.
US intelligence chiefs say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Russia has denied the allegations.
Asked at a press conference on Friday what he planned to do about the report on election interference, President Trump said his administration would look “very closely” into it.
The announcement comes amid claims by Mr Trump about the dangers of mail-in or postal ballots. He has suggested that the vote be delayed to prevent “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history”, prompting a backlash even among members of his own party.
It also follows complaints by Democratic lawmakers that US intelligence agencies are not releasing information to the public about foreign interference in this year’s vote.
The Republican president Mr Trump is seeking to win a second term in office. His challenger is Democratic candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
What does the statement say?
William Evanina, head of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), released the statement on Friday.
Foreign countries are trying to sway voter preferences, change US policies, “increase discord” in the country “and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process”, Mr Evanina said.
The counterintelligence chief however added that it would be “difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”
Many countries “have a preference for who wins the election”, he said, but the counterintelligence director said they were “primarily concerned” about China, Russia and Iran:
China “prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection”, the statement says, and has been “expanding its influence efforts” ahead of the vote
Russia is seeking to “denigrate” Mr Biden’s candidacy and other members of a perceived “anti-Russia ‘establishment'”. Mr Evanina added that some other actors linked to Russia “are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television”
Iran is trying to “undermine US democratic institutions”, Mr Trump, and “divide the country” ahead of the vote by spreading disinformation and “anti-US content” online. Their efforts are driven partially by a belief a second term for the president “would result in a continuation of US pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change”
At Friday’s press conference, Mr Trump said Russia “could be” meddling in this year’s election, but dismissed the idea the country might be trying to help him win a second term. “I think the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump,” he said, saying that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have, ever.”
The release of the statement comes after members of the Democratic party voiced concern about attempts by foreign nations to influence the vote.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said the intelligence about current efforts to sway the vote “should be available to the American people”.
In his statement, Mr Evanina said his agency “has and will continue to provide classified election threat briefings” to candidates and politicians.
“The steps we have taken thus far to inform the public and other stakeholders on election threats are unprecedented for the IC [Intelligence community].”
What happened in 2016?
A number of US intelligence agencies and officials have concluded that Russia helped influence the 2016 presidential election.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller – appointed as a special counsel to investigate that vote – did not establish that Mr Trump colluded with that effort, but said the president was not exonerated by his report.
Trump’s ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill: US increasingly seen as ‘object of pity’
“We are increasingly seen as an object of pity, including by our allies, because they are so shocked by what’s happening internally, how we’re eating ourselves alive with our divisions,” Fiona Hill, who was a witness in the Trump impeachment hearings, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday during the Citizen by CNN 2020 conference. “We’re the ones who are creating all this. It’s not the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else. We are doing this to ourselves.”
Asked whether the US is still seen as a model, Hill replied, “Unless we get our domestic act together, no.”
“What is really eroding our standing is what people are seeing happening here in the United States,” Hill, who was a national security adviser until she left the administration last summer, told CNN on Tuesday.
She said it’s the “bungled handling of Covid, on top of race relations, on top of our political polarization and the spectacles that we’re presenting to the outside world is what’s really pushing all of this.”
Hill said it would be “difficult” for NATO to survive under a second term of President Donald Trump, adding that the US needs to “revitalize our commitment to NATO.”
“Right now, most of our closest allies, not just partners and other major players, do not see the United States as leading. They see us as quite the contrary, as being so consumed with domestic problems that we really can’t do anything very much at all,” she said.
During congressional hearings in the 2019 impeachment inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks
Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to reach a deal to avert last-minute drama, though the two parties have squabbled for weeks over various funding and policy provisions in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.
“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, though he did not comment when asked if he’d spoken with Pelosi.
Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.
A deal had appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in farmer payments that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.
But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of McConnell, who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”
Both Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding yet another government shutdown under President Donald Trump, and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.
Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.
“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”
Asked if Republicans would be willing to spend more on food-related assistance in exchange for the farm aid, Shelby said Tuesday: “I’d listen to reason on that.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked if Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”
As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.
The GOP demands for farm aid, however, have emerged as a sticking point for many rank-and-file Democrats, who have been increasingly irate about Trump’s blatant use of farm aid for political purposes. That includes a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., last week, where Trump touted the taxpayer money as if it were a gift from him.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat and ranking member of the agriculture committee, this week criticized Trump’s use of the program as a “slush fund” and argued Republicans have been unwilling to agree to stricter guardrails around how the aid can be spent.
“This is not just a political fund for the election,” she said.
Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.
Nicola Sturgeon Has Banned Household Mixing In Scotland And Claimed English Measures Do Not Go Far Enough
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned household mixing (Credit: PA)
3 min read
Nicola Sturgeon has announced a ban on households mixing in Scotland, claiming experts say the restrictions introduced in England by Boris Johnson do not go far enough.
The first minister said the Scottish government’s top experts had warned the curbs announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday would not make a big enough impact on Covid-19 transmission rates.
“The advice given to the Cabinet by the chief medical officer and the national clinical director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down,” she told the Scottish parliament.
“They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus, and they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission.”
Mr Johnson has imposed a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry from midnight on Thursday, as well as a legal requirement for those working in the sector, and in retail, to wear masks.
The PM stopped short of preventing different households from socialising with each other outside of local lockdown areas, but said people should work from home wherever possible.
Mrs Sturgeon said she planned to impose similar restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants but would also go further.
“To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the west of Scotland,” she added.
Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson claimed the four nations of the UK were following “similar” restriction plans, despite Northern Ireland announcing on Monday that it would ban socialising between households.
This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.
In Wales, people are not allowed to mix indoors with people outside their own household or support bubble, and meetings or gatherings indoors even within an extended household is limited to six people.
Reports suggest insiders were worried about the prospect of Mrs Sturgeon diverging and implementing a “circuit-breaker” of stricter measures – leaving the actions of Mr Johnson’s government further exposed should they fail.
Some members of the prime minister’s frontbench – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel – are believed to have lobbied for lighter intervention, while other cabinet ministers were in favour of a more drastic approach.
Mr Johnson told MPs: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We’re not issuing a genuine instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.”
He added: “We will continue to act against local flare ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.”