Senator Chris Murphy claimed Friday that because President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus and will be absent from the campaign trail, he will rely more on Russian President Vladimir Putin to act as a “surrogate” for his reelection campaign.
Asked on CNN about continuing Russian efforts to support Trump’s reelection campaign, Murphy said the Russian operation is “much bigger and bolder and smarter than it was in 2016,” and the U.S. must now be “much more serious about the Russian threat given today’s news.”
“If President Trump can’t be out there on the campaign trail for the next two weeks, then he is going to rely on his surrogates and, unfortunately, one of his surrogates is Vladimir Putin,” Murphy said.
“So you are likely going to see this campaign ramped up by Russia over the next few weeks to try to substitute for the president’s absence on the campaign trail,” the Connecticut Democrat continued.
Murphy added that he has concerns about the transparency of U.S. intelligence agencies, which he suggested could be downplaying “the size of the Russian operation and their clear desire to try to elect President Trump to a second term.”
President Trump announced in a tweet early Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus and are beginning a quarantining process.
The U.S. intelligence community has long believed that Russia conducted successful online-disinformation campaigns in an effort to divide the American public and undermine confidence in election integrity during the 2016 presidential campaign, including by releasing hacked DNC emails.
Facebook in particular came under fire from critics who charged it with negligence during the last presidential-election cycle, when it allowed Russian actors, among others, to spread misinformation and attempt to sow discord on the site.
Last year, intelligence officials testified to Congress that Russia will likely continue to try to influence U.S. elections in 2020.