For weeks, Democratic senators have been trying to obtain evidence to back up President Donald Trump’s claim that China was trying to “interfere” in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Thus far, they’ve gotten nothing in return.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have now sent multiple letters to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, requesting information about whether Trump’s claims line up with intelligence community assessments. Weeks after Coats’ office said he would respond, an aide for Wyden told ThinkProgress on Thursday the senators have yet to receive an answer.
The senators first requested information from Coats and his office on October 4. In a joint letter, they noted Trump specifically claimed at the United Nations that he had “evidence” of Chinese “attempt[s] to interfere” in the 2018 election. The senators asked whether that claim was supported by the intelligence community’s own findings.
“We request that you state publicly whether the President’s statement is consistent with the assessments of the Intelligence Community,” Wyden, Harris, and Heinrich wrote. “We further request that you release as much relevant detail and supporting intelligence as possible.”
After weeks of silence, the three senators sent another letter this week, reiterating their request. The second letter also noted Trump’s new claim that China had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Once more, the senators requested information on whether the intelligence community had any evidence for Trump’s claims, or whether the president’s statement was consistent with intelligence community assessments.
Beijing has disputed Trump’s claims, calling them “unwarranted accusations.”
An ODNI spokesperson told ThinkProgress that the office planned to respond to the latest letter — but there was no timeline for issuing a response.
Beating back Beijing
Coats hasn’t been shy about issuing warnings regarding foreign interference efforts in the past, at least when it comes to Russia. In July, he said the “warning lights are blinking red again” as it pertains to potential Russian cyber-attacks and interference.
Trump, on the other hand, has been relatively isolated among his administration and national security officials in his claim that China is attempting to interfere in the upcoming elections, or that China also interfered alongside Russia in the 2016 presidential election. While Vice President Mike Pence said this month he had heard from an intelligence source that China’s efforts far outstrip Russia’s 2016 interference operations, few have picked up this thread.
Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said this month that China had engaged in a “more traditional, holistic state influence [campaign]” to sway voters, instead of the types of social media interference or hacking operations Russia employed in 2016.
One of the aspects of China’s more traditional lobbying campaign appears to be recent advertising buys in American newspapers, including across the Midwest, criticizing the Trump administration’s recent trade policies aimed at Beijing. The scope of the ads, as one analyst told the AP, were unprecedented, at least in the American Midwest.
And China has certainly not shied from meddling in the internal affairs of other Western democracies, especially in Australia and New Zealand, where tactics have ranged from paying off politicians to covertly organizing protests across the countries.
Canada has also seen its share of Chinese corruption and influence efforts recently. Illicit Chinese money has swamped Vancouver — using casinos and property alike to launder the funds — at such a rate recently that analysts following the developments have dubbed the system “The Vancouver Method” or “The Vancouver Model.” And a vote-buying scandal in British Columbia this month traces to a group directly linked to the Chinese Communist Party.
None of those examples, though, have been brought to bear in the U.S., at least recently. And the longer the silence from the intelligence community, the more it appears Trump was misreading evidence on hand — or simply trying to distract from the Russian interference efforts that backed his candidacy in 2016.