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 TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools MORE cast doubt on the conclusion during a summit in Helsinki.

Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsExperts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks Acting director of national intelligence begins hiring freeze: reports Ratcliffe nomination puts Susan Collins in tough spot 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 ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus 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 (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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.