In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said the new statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) confirmed the need for members of Congress to be extra-cautious about Russian efforts to manipulate them with disinformation.
“Members of Congress are on notice and need to be very careful not to advance narratives that may be coming from the Kremlin,” Schiff told us.
The new ODNI statement contains this judgment:
We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment.” 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. For example, pro-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. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.
Schiff told us he sees this statement was “an improvement on previous statements, in that it discloses more information to the public.”
But Schiff added: “I still don’t feel that it goes far enough in providing some of the information that the public needs and deserves.”
“There’s more that the IC should be telling the public,” Schiff told us, referring to the intelligence community.
The document also contains an assessment that the government of China would prefer to see Trump lose. But critically, it does not suggest that China is actually doing anything to bring that outcome about other than publicly criticizing the Trump administration’s policy decisions.
By contrast, the statement is clear that Russia is taking active measures to undermine Biden. So you have to wonder whether the ODNI included this false equivalence with China to muddy the waters, since Trump has privately raged when intelligence officials have taken steps to inform Congress about Russia’s intention to help Trump in the election.
Schiff pointed out that the juxtaposition of China and Russia in this way did appear problematic.
“The IC needs to distinguish between the intentions of these foreign powers and the actions of these foreign powers,” Schiff told us. “The China section begins by expressing a preference. The Russia section begins by assessing that Russia is actually using measures to denigrate the Vice President.”
Clarifying this further, Schiff said, would allow the public to “put in the proper context where the greatest threats are coming from.”
In one sense, as Schiff notes, this is an improvement: Democrats have been pressuring the intelligence community to say more about Russian interference, to inform the public. This moves in that direction.
But another, separate aspect of this is also important: It should make it harder for Trump allies to push bogus narratives about Biden.
We’re talking about Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chair of the homeland security committee. It isn’t often that a U.S. senator has to publicly deny participating in a Russian disinformation campaign, but Johnson recently had to do just that, in connection with his committee’s "investigation” into Ukraine, oil and gas company Burisma, and Joe and his son Hunter Biden.
As you’ll note, the new ODNI statement explicitly confirms that the pro-Russian Ukrainian Andriy Derkach’s efforts to spread “claims about corruption" to “undermine” Biden’s candidacy are also part of this outside Russian interference effort.
Those claims about alleged Biden corruption are part of the series of claims that Johnson is pursuing in his “investigation.”
Johnson’s probe dredges up some stuff that we heard during Trump’s impeachment. In particular, Rudy Giuliani is acting as a conduit for a group of Ukrainians with ties to Russia who appear to be trying to feed questionable information to Johnson.
One of those people is none other than Derkach, who attended the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the KGB in Moscow and whose father was a KGB officer.
Derkach has sent packets of anti-Biden information to American lawmakers, including Johnson. Derkach has also met with Giuliani and released pieces of recorded conversations Biden had with Ukrainian leaders as vice president.
Those recorded conversations released by Derkach are supposed to confirm a narrative in which Biden, as vice president, helped oust a Ukrainian prosecutor, supposedly as part of an effort to protect Burisma, whose board included Hunter Biden.
But the tapes don’t actually confirm that. Instead, they confirm what we already know, which is that Biden was working to oust a corrupt prosecutor, in an effort that was backed by international institutions. The narrative of supposed Biden corruption has been completely debunked.
This has prompted Democrats to ask whether Johnson is using the information Derkach is feeding him to discredit Biden, and to point out that if he is, Johnson may be participating in a Russian disinformation campaign.
This is also why top Democrats have pressed intelligence officials to brief Congress on what they know about this Russian disinformation campaign, specifically on whether intelligence officials assess this information being sent to Johnson is part of that Russian effort.
Johnson has denied using information from Derkach. But he has conceded getting information from Andriy Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who, along with Derkach, is working with Giuliani to spread the same story lines about Biden.
Yet Trump’s own intelligence officials have now tied those same narratives to a Russian disinformation effort to undermine Biden and interfere in our election. This might not dissuade Johnson from continuing to pursue his “investigation," but it’ll make that investigation look a whole lot more ridiculous.