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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Dan Coats, who served as President Trump's director of national intelligence, wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday that "every conceivable effort" must be taken to safeguard November's election from claims of illegitimacy.

Why it matters: President Trump has repeatedly baselessly suggested that increased mail-in voting could lead to widespread voter fraud, and intelligence officials warn that foreign actors, including Russia, will continue to try to influence this year's election.

  • Coats called the election's legitimacy "the essential linchpin of our entire political culture."
  • He, who also served multiple terms as a Republican senator from Indiana, called for Congress to create a "supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission" tasked with overseeing the election.
  • He said it should "monitor [existing electoral] mechanisms and confirm for the public that the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed ... without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party."

The big picture: While serving as DNI, Coats repeatedly affirmed the intelligence community's consensus that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections, despite pushback from Trump.

What he's saying: "Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent," Coats wrote, also citing the discourse around conspiracy theories, the news media and social media.

  • "If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome."
  • "Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh."

Go deeper

When U.S. politicians exploit foreign disinformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. political actors will keep weaponizing the impact of widespread foreign disinformation campaigns on American elections, making these operations that much more effective and attractive to Russia, China, Iran or other countries backing them.

Why it matters: Hostile powers’ disinformation campaigns aim to destabilize the U.S., and each time a domestic politician embraces them, it demonstrates that they work.

Aug 22, 2019 - World

Russian interference, 2020

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans are at each other's throats. Politically, socially and culturally, we suspect each other's motives and plain sanity. So certain are we of the other's intent to do the nation harm, some of us have joined political gangs and assaulted one another, resulting in at least 1 death.

Which is to say: Americans have played into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands — again. It is assumed he can attack next year's elections if he so chooses, but since no outsider knows exactly how, what comes next is one of the great underlying mystery-dramas of the 2020 election campaign.

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.