America’s top national security officials held a rare joint news briefing Thursday to highlight efforts to combat Russian election meddling — with the Department of Homeland Security chief dramatically asserting that “our democracy itself is in the crosshairs.”
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries who seek to sow discord and undermine our way of life,” DHS Director Kirstjen Nielsen said from the White House.
“I fully share the community intelligence’s assessments and past efforts and those today to interfere with our election and of the current threat. Our adversaries have shown they have the willingness and capability to interfere in our elections.”
Other heavy hitters on hand decrying Russian interference included Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI chief Christopher Wray, National Security head John Bolton and National Security Agency director Gen. Paul Nakasone.
Their appearance in the White House briefing room along with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders came a day after President Trump yet again called the special counsel’s probe into Russian election meddling a hoax and demanded that Attorney General Jeff Sessions shut it down.
Neither Wray nor Coats would directly address the president’s characterization of the probe — but they and the others insisted the threat from Russia and other actors was legit.
“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States. We also know the Russians tried to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike,” Coats declared. “We will continue to monitor and warn of any such efforts.”
Wray outlined a number of ways that Russia and others were attempting to influence domestic politics and sow discord.
“This threat is not going away. Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in maligned influence operations to this day,” the top G-man said.
“The threat is multi-disciplinary: targeting US officials and other US persons through traditional intelligence tradecraft, criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign financing, cyber attacks against voting infrastructure along with computer intrusions.”
America’s enemies are also “targeting elected officials and others … overtly and covertly manipulating news stories, spreading disinformation, leveraging economic resources, and escalating divisive issues,” he continued.
Despite Trump’s ongoing barrage of tweets calling Russian meddling “a hoax” and Mueller’s probe a “witch hunt,” Bolton praised his boss for his actions to combat the interference that the commander-in-chief had repeatedly cast doubt on.
“Since January 2017, the president has taken decisive action to defend our election systems from meddling and interference,” Bolton said.
“This includes measures to heighten the security and resilience of election systems and processes, to confront Russian and other foreign malign influence in the United States, to confront such aggression through international action, and to reinforce a strong sanctions regime.”
The national security adviser, a longtime Russia hawk, also defended the president’s much-maligned press conference after his tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, when Trump did not address Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, he insisted, pushed the issue during his private sitdown with Putin.
After Trump on Wednesday tweeted that Sessions should shut down Mueller’s probe, even though the attorney general had recused himself from the matter, the president’s lawyers insisted he was just stating an opinion and not issuing an order.
The tweet and a half-dozen others, they said, were prompted by Trump’s rage after learning that Mueller wanted to question him about potential obstruction of justice.
Published at Thu, 02 Aug 2018 18:33:45 +0000