The Senate Intelligence Committee had its annual hearing on worldwide threats on Tuesday, and intelligence officials took it as an opportunity to warn the Committee that they are expecting Russian actors to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has already made his worries known to the press—on Jan. 29, he told the BBC that he expects Russia to continue its campaign to influence U.S. elections. Prompted by Sen. Mark Warner, D–Virginia, Pompeo and the five other intelligence heads voiced their agreement the director’s assessment at Tuesday’s committee meeting. As Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, noted, “We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen, and other means of influence to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”
A number of intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI, began investigating the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election during Obama’s final months in office. Then, early in 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified a report of the agencies’ findings, which concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered an influence campaign to “denigrate” Clinton and aid Trump. Kremlin-linked operatives were determined to have launched a multi-pronged effort that included leaking documents they found in a hack of Democratic National Committee’s computer system and creating legions of fake social media accounts that spread divisive and often inaccurate information. The report stopped short, however, of determining whether this offensive was successful at influencing the outcome of the election.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Coats said Russia sees its 2016 campaign strategy as a success and will again try to sow discord during this year’s midterms. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, lamented that Trump has not acknowledged the issue or made it a priority. The senator stressed that the issue of election meddling is distinct from the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian actors. King said, “I understand the president’s sensitivity about whether his campaign was in connection with the Russians. That’s a separate question. … We have the entire intelligence committee before us that the Russians interfered in the election in 2016. They’re continuing to do it and they’re a real imminent threat to our elections in a matter of eight or nine months.”
When Sen. Jack Reed, D–Rhode Island, asked if the Trump has directed the agencies to “take specific actions to confront and blunt Russian influence activities that are ongoing,” the answers from the panel were vague. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that, while the agency is working to blunt Russian influence, those efforts were “not as specifically directed by the president.” Pompeo said that Trump had entrusted the CIA to have “a deep and thorough understanding of every threat,” but added little else on the president’s instructions regarding Russian tampering. Coats echoed the sentiment.