Top U.S. Intelligence Officials Warn Of “Ongoing” Threat From Russia, Then Trump Calls Russia Investigation “Hoax”
On Thursday, top U.S. national security officials reaffirmed that Russia is still a threat to the security of U.S. elections and informed reporters that President Donald Trump has directed them to prioritize election security for the upcoming midterm elections.
In a show of national unity, intelligence and foreign policy heads all gathered in the White House Briefing Room to discuss the potential threat Russia posed to the elections.
“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” said Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “The President has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.”
Coats also informed the press that while Russian attempts at election interference are still “pervasive” and “ongoing,” they are not as intensive as what was seen during the 2016 presidential elections. The Russians “stepped up their game big time in 2016. We have not seen that kind of robust effort from them so far,” said Coats.
Reporters later questioned intelligence officials about the perceived disconnect between the president and his administration. During last month’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump had seemed to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies. He claimed that he “didn’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” who interfered in the elections, only to later walk back on the statement following heavy bipartisan criticism.
National Security Adviser John Bolton instead tip-toed around the question by reaffirming that the president “cares deeply about” the issue and fully supports those working on it. Trump himself did not attend the meeting.
Just a few hours later, Trump once again drove a wedge between himself and his top lieutenants by calling the Russia investigation a “hoax” during his campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
“In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin,” he said. “We discussed everything — I had a great meeting. We got along really well. By the way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing. Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, ok?”
This came a day after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had already ripped into the FBI by stating the Russia probe was rooted in “corruption and dishonesty.”