By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democratic leaders called on Congress on Wednesday to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation $300 million to fight foreign efforts to interfere in congressional and state elections in November, amid growing concerns about potential Russian influence on the polls.
Citing warnings from intelligence agencies that Russia is trying to influence the upcoming vote, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asked that the additional funds be included in a bill to fund the government which Congress aims to pass by March 23.
“This additional funding should be targeted to ensure the resources and manpower to counter the influence of hostile foreign actors operating in the U.S., especially Russian operatives operating on our social media platforms,” Schumer, Pelosi and the top Democrats on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees wrote in a letter.
They sent the letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Republican aides said the proposal, along with many others, would be considered as the spending legislation is written.
Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies warned a Senate committee last week that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections, when control of Congress is up for grabs, much as it did during the 2016 U.S. campaign.
And on Friday, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians and 13 Russian companies with conspiracy to tamper with the 2016 race.
Moscow has denied election meddling and Republican President Donald Trump rejects suggestions that his associates colluded with Russia.
Democrats also want a “substantial” increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security and Election Assistance Commission to help states upgrade their machines and systems.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said on a conference call with reporters that she would back $386 million for states.
Members of Congress have repeatedly decried what they see as federal officials’ failure to do more to work with states to protect the election system.
Homeland Security said last year that 21 states had experienced initial probing of their systems from Russian hackers and a small number of networks were compromised.
But three U.S. intelligence officials said protecting sources of information about the use of cyberspace to meddle in elections are a major obstacle to closer cooperation with state officials because much of the intelligence is so classified that it cannot be shared with anyone who does not have a high-level security clearance.
Schumer also said Democrats want Trump administration officials to issue a public report detailing how Russia might interfere in the 2018 U.S. vote.
They also want a classified report for state officials and relevant congressional committees.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell)