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Biggest Worry On Election Security Is Americans' Loss Of Confidence, Wray Says

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies Thursday before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to the homeland.
Chip Somodevilla
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies Thursday before a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on threats to the homeland.

The greatest peril posed to American elections is that the cloud of fear and uncertainty about them will cause citizens to stop believing they matter, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Congress on Thursday.

Wray was asked in a House Homeland Security Committee hearing about his No. 1 concern as the FBI and other agencies work to quash the manifold foreign threats posed to this and future elections. He said the worst danger isn't something within the power of a foreign government.

"The steady drumbeat of misinformation and amplification of small instructions, I worry, contribute over time to a lack of confidence in American voters and citizens in the validity of their vote," Wray said. "That would be a perception, not a reality ... but I worry that people will take on a perception of futility because of all the noise and obfuscation that's generated."

The FBI director didn't mention one of the biggest critics of the validity of U.S. elections — his own boss, President Trump.

Trump and another of Wray's supervisors, Attorney General William Barr, have sought to cast doubt on the integrity of an election expected to involve the most-ever voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. Doubts raised about the election followed years of unfounded allegations by Trump about fraud, including claims that a panel appointed by the president could not verify.

The FBI director said several times Thursday that he doesn't want to step into political controversies in a way he considers inappropriate, which is likely why he phrased his answer to the House committee as broadly as he did.

The dilemma for Wray and U.S. officials, however, is how effective they can be in defeating what he called a stream of malign influence when so much doubt about the integrity of U.S. democracy is being raised from within.

Follow updates on the hearing here.

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Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.