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 TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE cast doubt on the conclusion during a summit in Helsinki.

Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsAn independent commission should review our National Defense Strategy Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race 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 ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion 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) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG 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.