National Security

DHS chief backs up intel assessment that Russia interfered in US elections

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday said she agreed “full stop” with the Obama-era intelligence assessment that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that they did it, and I think we should all be prepared — given that capability and will — that they’ll do it again,” she said while speaking at the Aspen Security Forum.

However, when pressed on the specific intelligence community judgment that Russia developed a preference for Trump, Nielsen initially said she had not seen any evidence that Russian hackers’ specific efforts to target state electoral systems was “to favor a particular political party.” 

But Nielsen later seemed to clarify those remarks, saying that Russia’s influence efforts against the 2016 vote were to “attack certain political parties … more than others.” She indicated, however, that Moscow’s ultimate goal was to sow discord among the American public.

When pressed again later, she said she agreed with the intelligence community’s assessment “full stop” — which would include the judgment that Russia’s intention was to help Trump and disadvantage his opponent, Hillary Clinton. 
“I agree with the intel community’s assessment full stop — any attack on democracy, which is what that was, whether it is successful or it is unsuccessful, is unacceptable,” Nielsen said. “I absolutely believe their assessment.”

Her remarks come in the wake of various conflicting statements made by President Trump on Russian interference. During a press conference in Helsinki on Monday alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, he cast doubt on the conclusions — but later walked back the remarks, saying he misspoke and that he accepts the intelligence community’s conclusions. 

The unclassified intelligence community assessment released in January 2017 judged that Russia intervened in the presidential election “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” 

“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the assessment 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.” 

During the summit on Monday, Putin himself said he wanted Trump to win the election.  

On Thursday, Nielsen was asked by NBC news correspondent Peter Alexander to clarify remarks she made in May during which she said she had not seen the intelligence community’s specific judgment that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump. 

“I think what we have seen on the foreign influence side is that they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides, whether its in Charlottesville — both sides — whether its in Syria — both sides,” Nielsen said.

“But for clarity, the intelligence community did have that finding, right?” Alexander pressed. “They’re finding was that it was in an effort to favor the president.” 

“It was in an effort to attack certain political parties that we know about, right, more than others, and so I think we’ll continue to look and see what that means and be prepared for the next time,” Nielsen responded.

Nielsen, echoing other top intelligence officials, was firm in her warning that Russia presents a potential threat to future elections. She also said it would be “foolish” to believe that Russia is not continuing to target the United States in influence operations. 

“I think we would be foolish to think they’re not. They have the capability; they have the will. We have to be prepared,” Nielsen said. 

Trump on Wednesday responded “no” when asked by a reporter if Russia is still meddling in U.S. political affairs. Later, the White House said he was saying “no” to taking questions, not responding to the direct inquiry.

Nielsen also rejected the notion that other nations could have been involved the 2016 interference effort, after Trump raised the prospect earlier this week. 

“We have seen other nation-states involved in foreign influence,” Nielsen said. “We have not seen other nations involved in the election meddling.” 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Kirstjen Nielsen

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