FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday assured Americans that they could have confidence in the U.S. election system during the November midterm elections despite efforts from the Russian government to undermine it.
Wray gave his pledge in a rare on-camera interview, the first since he took the helm of the federal law enforcement agency in August of last year. Wray confirmed that the Kremlin continued to try to influence democratic processes less than two months shy of the midterms by engaging in “information warfare.”
“I think Americans can have confidence in our election system,” Wray told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell when asked whether voters could be sure the election will be fair. “What [the Russians] do is sow both inaccurate information, disinformation, it’s a kind of information warfare, and then propaganda: exaggerated half-truths, distortions.”
“We have law enforcement investigations that lead to charges,” he added, referring to how the FBI is countering Russia. “In some cases, we have steps that the technology companies can take themselves. … And in some cases, we’re raising awareness. Because the best defense against disinformation and propaganda is accurate information.”
The director’s comments are in line with the well-established consensus of the intelligence community that Russia sought to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election, although President Vladimir Putin has denied these accusations.
Wray stopped short of calling Putin a liar during the interview, however.
“I’m not going to accuse somebody of lying,” Wray said. “I’ll just say that that doesn’t jibe with our read of the evidence.”
The interview comes at the same time as the Trump administration’s last-ditch effort to combat election interference. On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump signed an executive order empowering the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to investigate allegations of foreign election interference and suggest sanctions against countries, organizations and people found to be engaging in influence campaigns.
Earlier this week, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft held a two-day national summit with 11 of his counterparts from other states with the goal of bolstering election-system security in preparation for the November elections.
The eleventh-hour reaction to interference in the midterms drew mixed reviews from those in Congress, who still remember the July feud in which Republicans rejected a Democratic effort to appropriate $380 million in state election security grants.
The executive order “recognizes the threat, but does not go far enough to address it,” Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a joint statement Wednesday. “We must make sure Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy.”