Top U.S. intel official defends ‘fact-based’ conclusion on Russia meddling

Top U.S. intel official defends ‘fact-based’ conclusion on Russia meddling
© Greg Nash

The top U.S. intelligence official on Monday offered a robust defense of the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after President TrumpDonald John TrumpRosenstein expected to leave DOJ next month: reports Allies wary of Shanahan's assurances with looming presence of Trump States file lawsuit seeking to block Trump's national emergency declaration MORE cast doubt on the conclusion during a summit in Helsinki.

Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsEx-Trump official says intel community's testimony interfered in US-North Korea talks Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? Intel agencies' threat assessment matters more than tiff with Trump MORE, whom Trump handpicked to serve as director of national intelligence, said the intelligence community has been “clear” in its assessment of Russian meddling and described Russian efforts to undermine U.S. democracy as “ongoing” and “pervasive.” Coats also emphasized that the intelligence community’s assessments are “fact-based.”

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“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said in a statement issued Monday afternoon. 

Coats did not specifically reference Trump’s statements at a press conference alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin following a face-to-face meeting in Helsinki on Monday. But the statement was significant in that it came hours after Trump refused to denounce Russian meddling and downplayed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions.

“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said at the press availability, referring to Putin’s repeated denials of Russian interference. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump’s statements have drawn bipartisan criticism.

Weeks before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the director of national intelligence, FBI and National Security Agency released an unclassified assessment accusing the Russian government of orchestrating an influence campaign against the election to undermine democracy, damage Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRoger Stone shares, quickly deletes Instagram photo of federal judge on his case Barack, Michelle Obama expected to refrain from endorsing in 2020 Dem primary: report Why the national emergency? A second term may be Trump’s only shield from an indictment MORE and help then-candidate Trump. 

Top U.S. intelligence officials — including those serving in Trump’s Cabinet — have backed up the Obama-era assessment. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also determined that its conclusions were sound. 

“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers,” Coats said Monday.

The judgment triggered a federal investigation into Russian interference, now headed by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE, which is exploring whether associates of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.

Trump has raged against the special counsel investigation, again on Monday repeating his claim that there was “no collusion.” Mueller has yet to unveil any charges or guilty pleas related to the collusion question.

Trump’s meeting with Putin took place just days after Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and state election systems as part of the broader interference plot.