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Pence says intel community concluded Russia did not affect election

Pence says intel community concluded Russia did not affect election
© Greg Nash

Vice President Pence on Wednesday said the U.S. intelligence community universally concluded that Russia did not have an effect on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that officials have made no such judgment.

“Irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election,” Pence said at an event hosted by Axios, a claim he later repeated. 

Pence went on to acknowledge that Russia did attempt to meddle in the election and said that the administration is taking steps to counter the threat.

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“It doesn’t mean there weren’t efforts, and we do know there were,” Pence said. “There were efforts by Russia, and likely by other countries, to involve or influence American elections and we take that very seriously.”

The U.S. intelligence community has not reached a conclusion on whether Russian meddling actually had any bearing on the election's outcome.

“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russia activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” an unclassified assessment released last January states. “The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”

U.S. officials have accused Russia of using cyberattacks and disinformation during the 2016 campaign to undermine American democracy, damage Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPaltry wage gains, rising deficits two key tax reform concerns Trump pressed Sessions to fire FBI agents who sent anti-Trump texts: report DNC sues Russia, Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over alleged election interference MORE and help President TrumpDonald John TrumpIG investigating Comey memos over classified information: report Overnight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer Top Pruitt aid requested backdate to resignation letter: report MORE.

Homeland Security officials have also disclosed that Russia targeted election systems in 21 states, though they have maintained that there is no evidence any vote counts were changed.

Top U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut B from Pentagon agencies Pompeo faces difficult panel vote after grilling by Dems Pompeo confirms he was interviewed by Mueller MORE and CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Congress poised for busy week on nominations, defense bill | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump administration appeals decision to block suspected combatant's transfer By sending spy to North Korea, America raises the stakes high Throwing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism MORE told lawmakers Tuesday that they expect Russia to attempt to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

On Wednesday, Pence did not directly answer whether he agreed with that judgment but insisted the administration was taking steps to ensure that state election systems and U.S. infrastructure are guarded against future foreign interference efforts.

“We have discussed plans going forward to ensure meddling in our elections by Russians or other powers around the world will be rebutted and that we’ll continue to develop the kind of technologies that ensure and maintain the integrity of our electoral system,” he said of his briefings with U.S. intelligence officials.

Pence went on to reiterate that Russia’s actions in 2016 had “no impact” on the election's result.

“Let me say again, the encouraging word is that it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence community that there was no impact on the outcome of the 2016 election from any foreign meddling in our elections,” Pence said, “I think that bears repeating.” 

Pompeo made a similar remark last October, saying at a conference in Washington, “The intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.” 

The CIA later issued a statement appearing to walk back his remarks.

“The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed,” an agency spokesman told The Washington Post at the time, adding, “the director did not intend to suggest that it had.”

Trump himself has at times cast doubt on the intelligence community's assessment and has weathered criticism for not doing enough to penalize or call Russia out for its behavior. He has also described allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia being investigated by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE as a “hoax.”