DHS secretary says she hasn’t seen assessment that Russia interfered to help Trump win

DHS secretary says she hasn’t seen assessment that Russia interfered to help Trump win
© Greg Nash

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTop Ethics Dem calls for Nielsen to resign Michelle Wolf compares ICE to ISIS in new video The Memo: Putin furor sparks new questions on Kelly’s future MORE said Tuesday that she has not seen the U.S. intelligence community’s specific judgment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE win. 

“I do not believe that I have seen that conclusion,” Nielsen told reporters following a closed-door briefing on election security with members of Congress, though she added that she has "no reason to doubt any intelligence community assessment" in general.

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The unclassified assessment released by top U.S. officials in January 2017 said that Moscow sought to interfere in the election in order to undermine the American democratic process, damage Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE and assist Trump.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the assessment states.

“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” it states. "We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him."

Nielsen, who was sworn in as Homeland Security secretary in December, indicated Tuesday that she was unaware of that assessment.

"That the specific intent was to help President Trump win I am not aware of that...," Nielsen said. 

"I want to be very clear what we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides. We’ve seen them encourage people to go to a protest on one side," she added. "We’ve seen them simultaneously encourage to people to go the same protest on the other side. I think what they are trying to do is to disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what’s happening."

It is that judgment that the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee called into question in its own investigation of the Kremlin's meddling, saying it found evidence that Russia sought to sow chaos but not favor a particular candidate. Trump himself has also cast doubt on that conclusion.

Last week, however, the Senate Intelligence Committee broke with its counterpart in the lower chamber.

“After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the [intelligence community’s] conclusions were accurate and on point,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel advances Trump IRS nominee Bipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure Senate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting MORE (D-Va.). “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.” 

A representative of Nielsen’s defended her Tuesday comments, saying the reporter’s question that preceded them was misleading.

"The Secretary has previously reviewed the Intelligence Community’s assessment and agrees with it – as she stated today and previously.  She also very clearly articulated today that the Russian government unequivocally worked to undermine our democracy during the 2016 election," a spokesman for Nielsen said. 

The spokesman added that the language of the intelligence community's assessment is "nuanced" and said that the reporter's question "did not reflect the specific language in the assessment itself." 

Nielsen and other Trump administration officials briefed lawmakers on election security Tuesday morning in a classified setting to discuss overall threats to upcoming U.S. elections and explain the steps the administration is taking to counter those threats.

—Updated at 12:38 p.m.