The U.S. government on Wednesday publicly accused Russia and Iran of separately interfering in the 2020 election, using information they each obtained on American voters.
Tehran is specifically accused of threatening Democratic voters in four states by sending emails that claimed to be from the Proud Boys, the Trump-supporting far-right group. Moscow, authorities said, obtained voter information just as they had during the 2016 election. Authorities did not detail what Russia has allegedly done to influence Americans’ votes.
“We would like to alert the public that we have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion related to our elections,” said the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, during a sudden press conference from Justice Department headquarters.
The Department of Homeland Security said Iran allegedly used the information to intimidate voters in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania by sending emails as the Proud Boys. “You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” read the email, in part. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.” Ratcliffe, who was chosen by President Trump to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies, said Iran’s activity was designed to hurt Trump.
Tehran and Moscow allegedly obtained data on Americans from “voter files,” which are sometimes commercially available. Officials did not say how Russia or Iran obtained the voter files, or that they had hacked U.S. voting systems — as Russia had in the run-up to the 2016 election. Nevertheless, DHS officials reportedly told state and local officials that holes were detected in voting systems and how to patch them.
FBI Director Christopher Wray urged Americans to be skeptical of information that undercuts faith in the electoral system. “You should be confident that your vote counts. Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism,” Wray said Wednesday.
Trump is reportedly considering firing Wray because he is upset that the FBI and Justice Department will not intervene to smear his opponent Joe Biden — just as Wray’s predecessor James Comey inadvertently did when he announced the reopening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in late October 2016, a development often attributed as a reason for Trump’s surprising victory.