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GOP Intelligence Senator: Russia Trying 'to Bring Down Our Entire System'

james lankford talks with reporters on capitol hill

WASHINGTON -- A Republican member of the Senate Intelligence and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees warned Sunday that Russian hackers this election cycle "don't seem to be as focused on a candidate as they are just trying to be able to bring down our entire system."

The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russia's 2016 campaign influence operation continues, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) lamented on ABC that distractions have taken Americans' eyes off the ball.

"I think the whole thing has gotten confused, quite frankly, is that Americans turn on the TV every day and regardless of what channel or where they go to look for news online or in print, it's constantly something else seems to be the story. I think we've lost track of the fact that the Russians were trying to interfere in our election and to sow chaos into our democracy. And every single day, I see a growing chaos in our democracy just in the constant accusations back and forth," he said.

"So that is the grand challenge of this, is to try to figure out what is just noise and what is actually beneficial for us to be able to pursue as far as a real problem with not only our democracy but with integrity and such. It is a big issue for us. It's a big issue for the president and for the presidency. But we should make sure that we stay on focus, that the Russians are clearly our threat here."

Lankford stressed that lawmakers are "working on the espionage issues" while special counsel Robert Mueller "has his own unique responsibility to deal with criminal issues, legal issues."

Russian interference this cycle consisting not just of hacking but disseminating disinformation "will be difficult for Americans to be able to track it because it's confusing," the senator said, as "they're trying to be able to get onto social media and into traditional media and to find ways to be able to push it."

"We also have to be very aware that the Russians are trying to be able to interfere in our elections every other way they can to be able to harvest information and then to be able to use that against our democracy," he added. "That demands sanctions, that demands immediate response from our government. This is -- regardless of who the candidate is or what the background is, we as Americans universally should push back against a foreign power trying to interfere in our system."

President Trump tweeted last week, "I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!"

"No, the Russians are trying to interfere with everyone's election, and that's the part that we lose track of," Lankford responded on ABC. "To them, sowing chaos and sowing uncertainty within our democracy is their key goal."

"At the end of it, they don't seem to be as focused on a candidate as they are just trying to be able to bring down our entire system. Their system is a dictatorship, their system is dominated by Putin and by his perspectives on it, and they destroy everyone else," the senator added. "This is what they did to Ukraine where they constantly gave false information out online, they constantly pushed on journalists, they constantly pushed on their system to try to bring their system down and weaken it as much as they can."

"They've done this in other countries, now they're doing it to us as well. We should respond with sanctions, we should try to push back and also understand they're going to go after every candidate through the process."

Lankford said the current "speed" of Russian operations has been "very active" but "much less than what it was in 2016 -- but the hard part is what you don't know."