Senior Trump administration officials’ comments about China were also at odds with the report.
John Ratcliffe, Mr. Trump’s final director of national intelligence, said publicly before and after the election that China was the greatest national security threat. In a letter to Congress, he said the intelligence community was not applying the same definition to Chinese influence operations as it was to Russia’s.
Some intelligence officials defended Mr. Ratcliffe’s comments on China, noting that Beijing was the most serious long-term threat to the United States and that it clearly tried to influence how it was viewed in America and elsewhere. The January ombudsman report did find merit in Mr. Ratcliffe’s critique of how intelligence on Chinese influence operations was handled.
Mr. Grenell said his successor was right to focus on China, and that it was wrong to dismiss his critique of the intelligence agencies because analysts used different standards when looking at China’s influence operations compared with Russia’s. “China is a crisis,” Mr. Grenell said. “Russia is a problem.”
Still, in appearances on Fox News, Mr. Ratcliffe’s relentless focus on China, rather than Russia, had the effect of leaving the impression, particularly with the president’s most enthusiastic supporters, that China was the most urgent threat to the 2020 election.
The new report rejected that assertion.
“Trying to equate, or at times suggest that, China was actually more actively interfering than Russia, it just wasn’t true,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “I certainly tried to call them out on it at the time but wasn’t able to hold up the classified intelligence document to show how misleading they had been. But I think this report makes it very clear.”
Even if China is a long-term national security threat, Russia will continue to be the larger threat in the next few elections, Mr. Evanina said.
“There’s some political speak about China being a bigger, more existential threat,” Mr. Evanina said. “Sure they are, but not when it comes to elections.”