The statement by William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, was notable for identifying three countries seeking to influence the 2020 election — China, Russia and Iran. But he portrayed Russia as the most active source of interference. Evanina also said that a Ukrainian lawmaker who has been in contact with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, is part of a Russian disinformation effort.
“[P]ro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” Evanina said.
Derkach met in December with Giuliani as part of an effort by the president’s allies to obtain damaging information about Biden in Ukraine, The Washington Post has reported. Giuliani also hosted Derkach on his podcast in February and has said the two have spoken repeatedly about Ukraine and Biden, terming the Ukrainian lawmaker “very helpful.”
Giuliani has said that he was aware there were recordings of Biden speaking to Ukrainians and that he sought to obtain them in 2019, while he was working to locate information helpful to Trump in Ukraine. “We would have loved to get the recordings, but we never did,” Giuliani previously told The Post.
Evanina also ascribed activities to Russia that were reminiscent of its interference in 2016, when Russia trolls bankrolled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin used social media platforms to flame political divisions in the United States and spread false information.
“Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television,” Evanina said.
Russia is targeting Biden as well as “what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ ” Evanina said. “This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia.”
Evanina had previously drawn sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who said that he needed to be more forthcoming with the public about threats that he had laid out for them in classified meetings. Evanina’s comments were the most detailed to date on various foreign efforts to influence the election. Evanina also called out Iran for “trying to divide” Americans and said Tehran “probably will focus on online influence” to foment those divisions.
Some U.S. officials criticized Evanina for appearing to equate the efforts of China and Russia when the Kremlin was interfering much more directly.
“Between China and Russia, only one of those two is trying to actively influence the outcome of the 2020 election, full stop,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Another U.S. official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that it would be misleading to compare Russia and China’s efforts as parallel in scope. China sees the U.S. as an adversary but takes a longer-term, strategic approach that, so far, doesn’t include the kinds of short-term efforts to wound a political candidate, the official said.
“China has been expanding its influence efforts” ahead of the vote in November, pressuring political figures it sees as opposed to its interest and trying to “deflect and counter criticism of China,” Evanina said in his statement.
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.