The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Harris warns of Russian interference in November election

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris delivers a campaign speech in Washington on Aug. 27.
Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris delivers a campaign speech in Washington on Aug. 27. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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Vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris said she believes Russian interference could cost the Democratic ticket the White House, when paired with President Trump’s attacks on the credibility of the voting system.

Harris, in a CNN interview that aired Sunday, said she is certain that Russia is actively trying to interfere, as U.S. intelligence officials have said.

“I am clear that Russia interfered in the election of president of the United States in 2016,” the senator from California said. “I serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. We have published detailed reports about exactly what we believe happened. And I do believe that there will be foreign interference in the 2020 election, and that Russia will be at the front of the line.”

“Could it cost you the White House?” CNN anchor Dana Bash asked.

“Theoretically, of course,” Harris replied. “Yes.”

Harris also criticized Trump’s efforts to sow skepticism about the outcome. He has disparaged mail-in balloting as fraudulent, despite casting absentee ballots himself, and has said that only votes tabulated by Election Day should be counted. (Mail-in ballots often take days to be counted because elections officials must confirm the identity of the voter.)

“We have a president who is trying to convince the American people not to believe in the integrity of our election system and compromise their belief that their vote will actually count,” Harris said. “There will be many obstacles that people are intentionally placing in front of Americans’ ability to vote.”

Much of the message Harris has been delivering at appearances during her first few weeks as former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate has centered on encouraging various groups within the Democratic coalition to make plans to vote and mobilize others to do the same. On calls with Black organizers, Asian American groups, Latino small-business owners and young people, Harris has emphasized the need for voters to understand and take advantage of all their voting options.

Harris has also been a key campaign messenger on racial justice issues and police reform, particularly in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., last month.

Asked Sunday whether she still supports putting more police on the streets, as she said in her 2009 book “Smart on Crime,” Harris told Bash that she does, but she added that safe communities are often safer because they are better funded all around.

“If you go into any upper-class suburb in America, you will not see police presence, but what you will see are well-funded public schools, high rates of homeownership, small businesses that have access to capital,” Harris said. “If we want to create safe communities, one of the smartest ways we can do that is invest in the health of those communities.”

Pressed again on whether she still supports more police on the streets, Harris said she does. The Trump campaign has argued that the Biden-Harris ticket plans to defund police departments and foster an environment of lawlessness. Although both Harris and Biden have said they would not defund police, some activist Democrats have pushed that proposal.

“What I would say now is what I would say then, which is I want to make sure that if a woman is raped, a child is molested, or one human being murders another human being that there will be a police officer that responds to that case, and that there will be accountability and consequence for the offender,” Harris said.

Harris reiterated her belief that the officers who shot Blake should be charged, at least based on her understanding of the facts of the case. Bash asked if she thinks the same should be true for seven Rochester officers who were suspended when video surfaced of them placing a hood on a handcuffed Black man, Daniel T. Prude, who later died in police custody.

“I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the prosecutors who are involved in that case, and in particular, I know that the attorney general of New York is reviewing the case,” said Harris, who served as attorney general of California. “And I expect that they will review all of the evidence and make a decision.”

The Trump campaign has spent much of the past few weeks arguing that Democrats are responsible for protests and for violence against protesters across the country, while the Biden campaign has focused its message on Trump’s failures in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden said last week that he believes Trump will push public health experts to approve a vaccine before the Nov. 3 election. Harris indicated Sunday that she was skeptical about the safety of a pre-election vaccine.

“I would not trust Donald Trump. It would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” Harris said.

“He wants us to inject bleach,” she said, referring to an option Trump once raised at a White House news conference. “No, I will not take his word.”

She also expressed concerns that scientists and public health officials will not be allowed to speak freely on any such vaccine because “if past is prologue, they will be muzzled.”

Harris said she would trust the word of Anthony S. Fauci — the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — on the safety of a vaccine. She said she and Biden will listen to public health experts when it comes to determining whether children should be required to be inoculated before returning to in-person schooling.