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Barr: China more aggressive threat to US elections than Russia

U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (Chip Somodevilla/Pool/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 03, 2020

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said in a Wednesday interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that while Russia, Iran and China are all seeking to sway the U.S. election in November, China has shown the most aggressive efforts to interfere in the election.

During the Wednesday interview, Blitzer reiterated an August report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which assessed Russia prefers to harm Joe Biden’s election chances in favor of President Donald Trump, while China and Iran both prefer Trump does not win reelection. When asked by Blitzer which country has been the most assertive and aggressive in its election motives, Barr said “I believe it’s China.”

Asked how he came to the conclusion China posed the greatest election threat, Barr said, “Because I’ve seen the intelligence, that’s what I’ve concluded.”

Blitzer pressed Barr for details, but the Attorney General said “I’m not going to get into that.”

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“More aggressive than Russia?” Blitzer asked.

“Yes,” Barr responded.

Barr would only say that of the countries the DNI report determined were making concerted efforts to interfere in the election, China was the most aggressive.

The DNI report did determine that China had made efforts to criticize the Trump administration, while Russia has sought to promote allegations of corruption between Biden and Ukrainian government officials. The report also assessed Iran also circulated disinformation and anti-U.S. content online.

Earlier in the CNN interview, Blitzer asked if Barr accepted the assessment that Russia was working to interfere in the election, to which Barr said “I accept that there’s some preliminary activity that suggests that they might try again.”

Barr said Russian election interference efforts would likely follow an observed “hack and dump” method, in which Russia works to uncover sensitive documents and airs them out to the public.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Russia tries something again of the same general genre of before. I mean, this — influence basically is two kinds of things. It’s hack and dump, you get into someone’s mail system and then try to disclose embarrassing documents,” Barr said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if they try something like that, or any other country tries that. The other way is social media and putting things out on social media.”

Blitzer did note that beyond swaying the election to any one candidate, the influence efforts are being done “for various reasons, but mostly, they want to sow dissent in our country, exacerbate racial tensions, etc. like that.”

The ongoing concerns about foreign interference in the elections come after concerns that Russia worked to harm then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and allegations of direct coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. While a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report determined no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the report did find Russian efforts to infiltrate and influence members of the Trump campaign. The report also assessed Russian hacked Democratic Party computer networks and released the contents of those networks.