Mr. Schiff, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday on MSNBC that he had been “urging Bill Evanina and others in the intelligence community to level with the American people about what’s going on.” He said the warning gave “a false sense of equivalence between what Russia is doing, what China is doing, what Iran is doing.”
Mr. Schiff and the other three authors of the letter have been briefed extensively on the intelligence, and thus are prohibited from violating classification rules by describing what they have seen.
But Mr. Schiff, a frequent target of harsh criticism from Mr. Trump because he was the Democrats’ manager in the impeachment trial in the Senate, added, “I think that our adversaries, in particular the Russians, are going to amplify the false messages that the president is putting out about, ‘Well, you can’t trust absentee ballots,’ even though that’s how the president votes.”
Some intelligence officials expressed surprise at the lawmakers’ letter and insisted they were not trying to play down the threat of interference from Moscow or signal that China was a greater challenge. They said Mr. Evanina’s statement was meant to be the beginning of a series of public statements, according to an official from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The official said the statement did not play down the threat of Russian interference, but lawmakers had to understand that the 2020 contest would be different from 2016’s.
It is unclear whether those statements, however, deter further action by American adversaries. But it is clear that 2020 will not be the same as 2016 — the Russians know that they cannot use the same playbook, and Iran and China both seem poised to play a greater role.
The question is whether they will be on the same side, or working against each other.
After the 2016 election, American intelligence assessments concluded that the Russians ultimately intervened on Mr. Trump’s behalf. But this year, Republicans and Democrats who have reviewed the intelligence have come to different assessments about whether Russia hopes to swing the election to Mr. Trump, or if President Vladimir V. Putin is simply intent on eroding confidence in the American electoral system.