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Congressional Democrats Release New Report To Respond To Russian Meddling In Elections


Congressional Democrats are out with a new report today calling for a plan to deal with Russia's meddling in elections. It points out that the U.S. is not the only victim, that Russia has been trying to undermine democracies in Europe and in former Soviet republics. The Democrats say that while other countries are responding to the threat, the Trump administration is falling short. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, says he wants Americans to understand the true scope and scale of Russia's meddling.


BEN CARDIN: Today, the government of the Russian Federation is engaged in relentless assaults against democratic institutions, universal values and the rule of law at home and abroad.

KELEMEN: He says Russia is drawing from a Soviet-era playbook but using new technologies. It's carrying out cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, supporting fringe political groups and even sending troops to places like Ukraine and Georgia. Still, Cardin says he doesn't want to make Vladimir Putin look like he's 10 feet tall.


CARDIN: I think Mr. Putin is, first of all, trying to preserve his own popularity in a country where the economy is failing and therefore has to have other successes. And the other successes may be military successes that are contrived so that he can show the people of Russia that he's been a successful warrior. It may be winning more medals in the Olympics than you should win if you played fairly.

KELEMEN: The Maryland Democrat was speaking at the German Marshall Fund about ways Europeans have pushed back. In Sweden, he says, students are taught about how to identify fake news. In France, cybersecurity officials worked with political parties to blunt the impact of Russia's meddling.


CARDIN: The countries that have achieved a degree of success all have one thing in common - political leadership who publicly said enough is enough and from there mobilized their bureaucracies to respond.

KELEMEN: Here in the U.S., he says, President Trump barely acknowledges the problem. Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein, though, says an office in his department is trying to counter propaganda from Russia.

STEVEN GOLDSTEIN: We do accept the fact that there is disinformation that goes out on a daily basis. I've been working with the technology companies. We believe that there has to be a multipronged approach to resolving the disinformation component.

KELEMEN: But the U.S. also has other priorities. It wants Google, Facebook and the other tech companies to help counter ISIS and other terrorist groups, not just Russian or Chinese propaganda. Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, doesn't think the U.S. intelligence community is paying enough attention to what he calls Russia's hybrid warfare or briefing tech companies about the threat.


WILL HURD: You know, there's not enough information and not enough focus on this as an intelligence collection priority. Just like we would chase Russian intelligence officers or Iranian nuclear weapon proliferators, Internet trolls, people that are trying to influence our democracy, I think that should move up the national priority intelligence framework.

KELEMEN: Republicans were not involved in writing the 200-page congressional report on Russia, but Congressman Hurd agrees with Senator Cardin that the U.S. needs a real bipartisan strategy. And he says it starts with educating Americans about the threat.


HURD: We all know don't get into a car with a stranger. We all know no stranger danger, all right. Why are you listening to a stranger on social media?

KELEMEN: And he's hoping Republicans and Democrats can at least agree on some of the basic facts. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, says he's already worked to expand sanctions on Russia and is not planning any further action in response to the report. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.