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In a White House press briefing on Thursday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters that Russia is making efforts to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections and are “are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party” to cause disruption.
“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” he said. “The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.”
“We know that through decades, Russia has tried to use its propaganda and methods to sow discord in America. However, they stepped up their game big time in 2016,” he continued. “We have not seen that kind of robust effort from them so far.”
Coats appeared alongside five of the Trump administration’s highest-ranking national security officials to verify the administration’s stance on the issue of Russian malevolence, that the foreign power had sought to interfere in both the past presidential election and that Trump had directed U.S. intelligence agencies to combat any interference in the upcoming congressional elections.
“Our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat. It is real. It is continuing. And we’re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in,” Coats also said. “It goes to Russia’s intent to undermine our democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies, and do a number of other nefarious things.”
“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,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen said, furthering Coats’ message.
FBI Director Chris Wray went on to explain that Russia sought to interfere with election outcomes using cyberattacks, suppressing voting, and providing illegal funding.
The emphatic clarity of position presented in the unannounced briefing was welcomed by the president’s critics.
Glad to see the White House finally do something about election security - even if it’s only a press conference. Now if only it was actually backed up by anything the President has said or done on Russia. https://t.co/NhKnhxgZ4p— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) August 2, 2018
Trump had come under fire for confusing comments made after a one-on-one meeting a few weeks ago, when he appeared to accept President Vladimir Putin’s denial that Moscow had tampered in the 2016 presidential elections. He later addressed those comments to say that he “didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” while iterating his support for U.S. intelligence agencies.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.