James Comey: Russia Will Interfere in 2020 US Election

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Jun 25, 2019
by Louise Hallman
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James Comey: Russia Will Interfere in 2020 US Election

Former Director of the FBI expresses concern that Moscow will continue to meddle in next presidential election, calls Trump’s behavior towards Russia “stunning”

James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, told journalists in Austria this weekend that he thinks Moscow will interfere in the next US presidential elections in 2020 and that President Trump’s attitude toward the hostile country is “stunning.”

Speaking to journalists from Der Standard, the Salzburger Nachrichten, the Wiener Zeitung and the Suddeutsche Zeitung while at Salzburg Global Seminar’s annual June Board Weekend, Comey said:

“I think Moscow and the Russians will interfere in some respect. This is a big challenge for the American security community to figure out what they’re doing and try to devise a way to stop it. 

“A central challenge for the FBI and the rest of the US national security community is that the President doesn’t acknowledge that the 2016 attack happened. So if he’s the commander-in-chief, how do you effectively block the next attack if your boss won’t acknowledge the last one?”

Appointed to the post in 2013 by then-president Barack Obama, the former director of the FBI was controversially fired by President Trump in May 2017. The grounds for his dismissal formed part of the investigation led by his predecessor at the Bureau and Special Counsel to the Department of Justice, Robert Mueller.

Comey called the evidence presented in the Mueller Report “compelling” and “striking” adding that it “confirmed beyond all possible doubt that the Russians attacked the American election.”

Russia attacked the 2016 US presidential elections through three main channels, Comey explained: by sowing discord and exploiting existing divisions on issues such as race, gun control and abortion through provocative postings on social media platforms; hacking and releasing sensitive emails; and “noisily” hacking voter registration databases.

It was this third prong of the attack that Comey found most concerning. 

“We had a hard time figuring out the purpose of that,” the former investigator explained, as many of the targeted databases were not in closely-run states, which would have been the expected targets of election interference. 

“I actually concluded that they were doing it so that we would see it, so that we would say something about it. Because remember – their first goal was to undermine confidence in the integrity of the election.”

US security services and social media platforms are working to thwart and reduce any future Russian attacks, said Comey, agreeing that the likes of Facebook and Twitter had learned a lesson from 2016 and adding that there was “goodness” in the fact that American voters were now more aware of possible Russian manipulation of social media. 
Despite concerns that Russia will attack future elections through similar tactics, Comey remained confident that there would not be manipulation of the vote itself thanks to the “complicated and local” manner in which the US conducts its elections. 

“I call it a hairball. It’s a beautiful hairball because it’s very hard for someone from St. Petersburg to get down to the local level and change my vote in the gymnasium where I just slipped on a paper card.”

Given all the evidence that Russia is intent on undermining US democracy, the former head of the FBI expressed serious concerns about Trump’s Russia policy:

“I was very much struck by the president standing next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and siding with Vladimir Putin against his own intelligence community with respect to their judgments about interference in the election. That was stunning to me…

“He frequently says he tougher on Russia than any president. That, like a lot of the things that Mr. Trump, says is not true.”

Salzburg Lecture

Comey was in Salzburg to deliver the third Salzburg Lecture at Salzburg Global Seminar’s annual June Board of Directors Weekend

Following this year’s theme of Living Dangerously: How Can We Get Real About Risk?, the former FBI director spoke on “Judgment Calls: Risks, Rules and Leadership,” calling on leaders to “get help, lift your eyes, and remember your grandchildren” when taking tough decisions.