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Acting Attorney General Takes Aim at ‘Malign Foreign Interference’ in US Elections

Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: December 20, 2020
Acting AG Jeffrey A. Rosen
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen was appointed Acting Attorney General to replace outgoing AG Barr on December 23, ( Image: OLIVIER DOULIERY / POOL / AFP / Getty Images)

On Dec. 14, U.S. Attorney General William Barr stepped down from his position. President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Barr would be leaving “just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family.” Despite the apparent cordial nature of Barr’s departure, many speculate that some friction led to the AG’s resignation. 

Barr’s recent remarks that the Department of Justice had not uncovered any evidence of voter fraud in swing states, the delay of Special Council John Durham’s investigation into the Russiagate scandal until after the Presidential election was over, and Trump’s Dec. 12 criticism of Barr on Twitter for not releasing information on the Hunter Biden scandal earlier, all seem to point to a faltering relationship between the outgoing AG and the President. 

All eyes are now on Jeffrey Rosen, Deputy Attorney General, as he succeeds Barr as acting Attorney General. 

The AG position is of particular importance to the investigation of allegations of voter fraud and foreign interference in the Nov. 3 election. Executive Order 13848, issued by Trump in September of 2018, requires Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe to, within 45 days of the election, have an assessment into whether foreign interference occurred. 

While the deadline for this assessment is Dec. 18, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced on Dec. 16 that the report will be delayed to an unspecified time in January. 

CBS investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge may have hinted at what is coming when she spoke on Dec. 3: “DNI Ratcliffe… has access to the most highly classified information that is held by the U.S. government, and he told CBS News that there was foreign election interference by China, Iran, and Russia in November of this year.”

Emergency Order 13484 requires Ratcliffe to present his assessment to President Trump, the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Homeland Security. The Order further requires the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to prepare their own report into the DNI’s assessment within 45 additional days. 

Acting Attorney General Rosen appears to be highly qualified to tackle an investigation into foreign interference from actors such as China’s Communist Party. 

Acting AG John Rosen’s speech on foreign interference in U.S. elections

On Aug. 26, Rosen gave a speech on malign foreign interference in U.S. elections at the Center for Strategic and International Studies where he opened by noting that while the DHS and DOJ had jointly found no evidence of foreign actors having had impact on the 2018 midterm Congressional elections or the 2016 Presidential election, he was most concerned about “malign foreign influence.” 

“The key word is ‘influence.’ Much of the time that is [achieved through] disguised propaganda. Other times, it is using pressure tactics on influential people. It can also take the form of hacking and disclosing private emails or phone messages. It comes in many different forms, all designed to influence how Americans think about issues and cast their votes.“

Rosen defined this malignant foreign interference within  the “3 C’s framework”: coercive, covert, or corrupt activities by foreign governments to influence U.S. policies, political sentiment, or public discourse, or to interfere in our political processes themselves.”

“Under this framework, we recognize that foreign governments often have preferences about U.S. policies or the outcomes of our elections. Sometimes those preferences are expressed openly… When those preferences are open and attributable, no one is deceived or misled.“

Rosen noted several historical examples of foreign influence in his speech: France’s actions in the election of 1796, when France attempted to install a pro-France Jefferson against a pro-British Adams; Nazi Germany’s influence on the 1940 election, with Hitler regarding President Roosevelt as a “pro-British and interventionist”; and the spiritual predecessor of today’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Soviet Union’s, repeated attempts to influence elections to defeat anti-Soviet senators and President Regan.

“Soviet leaders soon grew to loathe and fear President Reagan’s administration, according to an ex-KGB defector, and they ordered the KGB to weaken his 1984 reelection bid,” said Rosen.

“Soviet agents also covertly tried to develop contacts at the Republican and Democratic national party committees to find ways to subvert President Reagan’s campaign. In addition, they developed a package of narratives to disseminate about President Reagan, trying to portray him as a corrupt warmonger who was subservient to the military-industrial complex and responsible for tensions with NATO allies.” 

“But all of the Soviets’ efforts failed, and President Reagan was re-elected.”

Rosen discussed the CCP’s influence during the 1996 election cycle: “The People’s Republic of China (PRC), undertook a covert program to influence the U.S. political process through political donations, and other means.” He said their plan was to “influence the U.S. political process to be more favorable toward pro-Beijing policies by making campaign donations through middlemen who could provide access to, and seek to influence, candidates and elected officials at all levels of government.”  

The CCP’s endeavors ultimately resulted in many of the middlemen being prosecuted by the Justice Department and the release of a 1999 Congressional report identifying the CCP as a “serious threat to our national security.” Rosen made it clear that the 2020 Election was not off the radar for these same foreign entities, noting “efforts by China and Iran to undermine President Trump and his administration’s policies and efforts.“

A video is circulating online of a call recording in which a bulk order of fake ballots for the 2020 U.S elections is discussed.
Early December, a video is circulating online of a call recording in which a bulk order of fake ballots for the 2020 U.S elections is discussed. (Image: YouTube / Screenshot)

The solution, according to AG Rosen, is for the electorate to be “knowledgeable and careful about the sources of information they rely on, to look for accurate information, to inform themselves about the candidates, and to cast their ballots accordingly.”

He also cautioned the American people against taking “information from foreign governments or questionable sources at face value. Information from countries or regions that have a history of propaganda, should be taken with ‘a grain of salt,’ if not ‘two and then three grains,’ as President Franklin Roosevelt said.”

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