Kamala Harris Says Russia Exploited Racial Tensions to Disrupt 2016 Presidential Election

California Senator Kamala Harris said Russia deliberately used racism to disrupt the democratic process in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful reiterated her belief that race is a national security issue, claiming Russia specifically meddled with the U.S. election as a means of undermining the country's "strongest pillar of democracy."

Harris said Russia tried and failed several strategies for infiltrating and compromising the U.S. election process before successfully honing in on racism and longstanding racial divisions.

Russian-led disinformation campaigns provided phrases such as "identity politics," Harris told NBC News' Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, in order to discredit real conversations about race and divide and conquer American democracy.

"On this election issue, this longstanding adversary decided that they wanted to attack us where we are strong," Harris said Sunday morning. "And one of the almost intangible strengths of America is we can hold ourselves out as a democracy, as flawed though we may be, it gives us the authority to walk in rooms and actually talk about human rights, talk about civil rights, talk about concepts of freedom. "

Harris continued, "So they decide, let's get at them, let's attack that, so they decide to attack the strongest pillar of democracy which is freedom and open elections. So let's get Americans going at each other, what's going to get heat? And they tried out a bunch of different things and you know what caught heat? The issue of race. So Russia exposed America's achilles heel."

Harris, who sits on Senate Homeland Security and Intelligence committees, said the U.S. is "very vulnerable to cyber threats" and that Russia's use of race as a way to dismantle American democracy proves to her that racial issues have become a national security threat.

"And all of a sudden, guess what? For those who want to marginalize the conversation about race and racial inequities and say 'oh well that's identity politics' or this and that -- guess what? It is now also a national security issue. And we need to deal with it."

She noted that racism was a problem in the U.S. long before Trump was elected and it will be after he is out of office, but added that Americans can't condone any leader who fans the fires of racial division. She accused the president of running a "campaign of terror" that is dividing Americans and making them fear each other in a tactic very similar to that of the Russians.

Harris proposed an official "cyber doctrine" that would guide lawmakers on how to respond to cyber attacks similar to the Russian 2016 election operations. She ridiculed the Trump administration for not allowing the FBI, NSA, CIA or other intelligence agencies to help protect future elections from interference. In addition to the election process, she added that "critical" infrastructure networks that hold up the country's power grid, health care system and financial institutions are all potential targets for cyber attacks.

kamala harris race russia election
California Senator Kamala Harris said Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election deliberately used racism to disrupt U.S. democracy and to provoke Americans into fighting one another. Screenshot: Meet the Press | NBC

"Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States, regardless of what Donald Trump says," Harris told Todd. "Listen to the intelligence community—they tell you that is true because it is true. That's a fact."

She admitted it's "debatable" whether or not Russia is responsible for "state-sponsored terrorism," but insisted the country's leadership is absolutely behind attacks on U.S. democracy.

"There's no question they have committed human rights abuse, there is no question they are an adversary, there is no question they have attacked America's democracy."

Kamala Harris Says Russia Exploited Racial Tensions to Disrupt 2016 Presidential Election | U.S.