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US will watch closely for election interference, Trump says after warning of Iran, Russia, China activity

President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin during the G20 Japan Summit Friday, June 28, 2019, in Osaka, Japan. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. President Donald Trump says his administration will watch closely for possible interference in the November presidential election by Russia, China, and Iran.

But he said he believes the last thing that any of the three countries would want is for him to win.

“We are going to watch all of them. We have to be very careful,” Trump said at a news conference on August 7 in response to a question about the warning earlier in the day from Bill Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence Security Center.

Evanina said that U.S. intelligence assessments have showed that Beijing is hoping that Trump loses his bid for reelection, Moscow is working to weaken Democrat Joe Biden, and Tehran is looking to undermine democratic institutions.

Referring to Russia, the Republican president said, “I think that the last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump because nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have — ever.”

The reasons are his push for NATO members to fulfill their defense spending commitments, a buildup of U.S. military spending since he took office, and U.S. efforts to stop construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that Russia is building to transport gas to Europe under the Baltic Sea.

Trump said Iran also would love to see him lose, but added, “If and when we win, we will make deals with Iran very quickly.”

Iran, he said, is “dying to make deals” but would much rather make a deal with Biden than Trump.

Trump said China would prefer to see Biden win, and if the former vice president were elected, “China would own our country.”

Trump, touting his attempts to get North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, also predicted that Pyongyang would make deals “very quickly” with the United States if he were reelected.

Evanina’s statement was the most specific warning to date about the threat of foreign interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Following the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials determined that Russia interfered by mounting a computer hacking and social-media manipulation campaign with the goal of boosting Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. officials have also said there were multiple foreign hacker efforts to penetrate voting systems in the 2018 congressional elections in what appeared to be a test run for 2020.

“Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” said Evanina, as he provided the most recent assessment of threats to the U.S. election.

“We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran,” he said in a statement.

Evanina said China views Trump as “unpredictable” and does not want to see him win reelection.

“Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston consulate, and actions on other issues,” he said.

He added that Russia is working to “denigrate” Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” among his supporters. It also links Moscow’s disapproval of Biden to his role in shaping U.S. policy supporting Ukraine and opposing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Evanina said Iran is seeking to undermine Trump and divide the country before the vote.

“Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-U.S. content,” Evanina wrote.

“Tehran’s motivation to conduct such activities is, in part, driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change,” he said.