US officials charged with protecting the 2020 election said Wednesday they have “no information or intelligence” that foreign countries, including Russia, are attempting to undermine any part of the mail-in voting process, contradicting President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly pushed false claims that foreign adversaries are targeting mail ballots as part of a “rigged” presidential race.
Specifically, a senior intelligence official discounted the possibility of foreign actors mass producing fake ballots to interfere in the November elections, again breaking with Trump who has continued to insist that mail-in voting poses a significant threat to election security.
“We have no information or intelligence that any nation state threat actor is engaging in activity … to undermine any part of the mail-in vote or ballots,” the official told reporters.
However, senior officials declined to discuss Russia’s efforts to seize upon the President’s attempts to sow mistrust and doubt about the mail in voting process.
While the intelligence community and other relevant agencies have made a concerted effort to release information related to election security threats in recent weeks, they have been reluctant to address questions about the President’s actions or whether Russia, specifically, is tailoring its messaging based on Trump’s comments.
Still, the comments from senior US intelligence officials on Wednesday highlight just how isolated Trump is with his rhetoric about election security and voting misconduct. His conspiratorial claims about widespread fraud and “rigged elections” have now been rejected by top US officials from his own administration, state officials from both parties, and nonpartisan voting experts.
It is also the latest example of how Trump is routinely out-of-step with the views of the US intelligence community regarding issues of national importance, including Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump campaign officials and the White House have repeatedly declined to comment when asked why the President continues to promote lies related to mail-in voting despite being told by election security officials that there is no intelligence or information to back up his claims.
In an email to CNN hours after the briefing, Trump campaign spokesperson Thea McDonald declined to address why the President’s theories about voting were publicly rejected by top US intelligence officials. She instead offered an ominous and misleading warning about potential election shenanigans by Democrats.
“The intelligence community is right to keep a close eye on this issue, as Democrats attempt to flood the zone with tens of millions of unrequested mailed ballots that will undoubtedly throw our election system into chaos,” McDonald said, omitting that unrequested absentee ballots are mailed out in only nine states and ballots go only to registered voters.
No evidence of coordinated national voter fraud
A senior FBI official also said Wednesday they have not seen evidence of coordinated national voter fraud related to mail-in ballots and the bureau has assessed that even if there is fraud, it won’t tip the scales of the election results. Trump has repeatedly promoted the baseless lie that there is massive voter fraud in US elections.
The FBI is “fully aware” of the expectation that there will be an increase in mail in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic – circumstances that have created a new environment with this election cycle, the senior official said.
“We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort during a major election and it would be extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through this type of model alone, given the range of processes that we need to be affected or compromised by an adversary at the local level,” they added. The official also said the FBI stands ready to tackle any potential voter fraud that might occur.
Senior officials also reiterated Wednesday that they are concerned about malicious actors seeking to exploit any uncertainty over the election results and the expected lack of an immediate winner on November 3, a time period that Chris Krebs, arguably the most visible federal election official, previously said is “absolutely ripe for a destructive or disruptive attack by a capable adversary.”
“The reality is it’s not about election day anymore,” one senior official said, echoing Krebs’ warning related to the days, and possibly weeks, it could take to tally all ballots.
Many election officials, including California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla, have said the President could be among those actors that attempt to fill the post-election day information vacuum with misleading information.
“You can imagine what a certain somebody would do in that time span in terms of spewing, lies and conspiracy theories about what’s happening,” Padilla previously told CNN.
No plan to address Trump’s false claims?
Padilla said that much of the recourse he and others have to keep the President in check depends on Facebook and the other social media companies responding to their requests that posts be taken down. Amid fierce criticism for allowing disinformation to spread rampantly, they have tried to show lately that they are cracking down.
Still, multiple state election officials have told CNN there’s been no specific guidance from CISA or the FBI about what to do if the President or other government officials make allegations about their states that are untrue.
“We need a national response when the President shares propaganda, we haven’t seen it yet,” Padilla, said in an interview with CNN last week. “So the clock is ticking.”
Padilla, a Democrat, said California state officials follow the same protocol to address false claims coming from the President as they would suspected disinformation from Russia or another foreign actor.
On Wednesday, officials sidestepped questions related to whether there are concerns that foreign actors are amplifying false statements made by Trump related to the election process and offered little insight as to whether there is a plan in place to address those claims when they come from US officials, including the President.
“We continue to drive intelligence collection dissemination to those who need it, including policymakers, to make the best decisions and judgments everyone can make,” the senior intelligence official said.
CNN previously reported that the federal agencies charged with protecting the November election don’t have the power or ability to deal with disinformation when it comes from the White House or the President himself. These agencies include the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, among others.
“It puts the agencies in an impossible position because it’s their own boss and how are they going counteract the chief executive of our government?” said Miles Taylor, the former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff to former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen who recently became one of the highest-ranking former Trump administration officials to endorse Joe Biden.
“In the past four years there’s been a lot done to prepare the United States for the possibility of disinformation and foreign interference in the election,” Taylor added. “But none of that can prepare us for when the president may the one amplifying foreign government disinformation.”
This story has been updated with comments from the Trump campaign.
CNN’s Alex Marquardt and Evan Perez contributed reporting