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UK accuses 'Russian actors' for meddling in 2019 election

FILE - In this file photo dated Thursday, May 7, 2020, Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives at 10 Downing Street, in London. Raab on Monday July 6, 2020, announced targeted economic sanctions against individuals and organizations from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea under new U.K. powers to punish human-rights offenders.

Thu, 16 Jul 2020 08:56:30 -0500

LONDON (AP) — The British government accused “Russian actors” Thursday of seeking to interfere in the U.K.'s last general election, and a powerful committee of lawmakers confirmed it would publish within days a long-awaited report into previous allegations of interference from Moscow.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a written statement to lawmakers that it is “almost certain” that the unnamed individuals "sought to interfere" in the December 2019 election by amplifying online “illicitly acquired and leaked government documents.”

The documents, relating to U.K.-U.S. trade talks, were used by the then-leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to back up his claims that the Conservative government was preparing to “sell off” the National Health Service.

The papers were believed to have appeared online some months earlier but gained little traction until picked up by the Labour campaign and highlighted at a news conference in November. After they were revealed, online discussion site Reddit said its own investigation linked their appearance to a previous Russian disinformation campaign.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Raab said there was an “ongoing criminal investigation” into how the documents were obtained.

Raab's statement came as the newly installed Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament said it would release the report on previous allegations of Russian interference before Parliament’s summer break starts next week. The committee has a wide-ranging and largely secretive role overseeing the U.K.'s intelligence and security services.

It was unable to publish the report since it was compiled last year after Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to clear it for release ahead of the December election. The report needs government approval before it can be made public.

Johnson has been dogged by questions about the unpublished report for months, especially over what it says about any Russian involvement in the 2016 Brexit campaign, which saw Britain vote to leave the European Union.

The main opposition Labour Party has accused the government of failing to publish the report because it would lead to other questions about the links between Russia and the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, which was spearheaded by Johnson.

The decision to publish the report comes a day after the new committee for this current parliamentary term was formed. Its first action was to reject the government’s preferred candidate to lead it.

The nine-member committee elected lawmaker Julian Lewis as chairman. The job had been expected to go to a former minister, Chris Grayling, who is a loyal supporter of Johnson.

A political storm ensued and Lewis was kicked out of the party's caucus in Parliament. Lewis said the decision to strip him of his Conservative status was “strange” given that the committee is meant to be outside the influence of government.

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