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Trump huddles with top officials on election security

Trump huddles with top officials on election security
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President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE on Friday met with members of the National Security Council about threats to U.S. elections, an issue that has attracted significant attention since Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump convened the meeting to “receive updates on the whole-of-government approach his Administration is implementing to safeguard our Nation’s elections,” according to a statement from the White House issued Friday evening. 

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A host of Cabinet officials attended the meeting, including Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoChina plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it Trump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run Green New Deal's 3 billion ton problem: sourcing technology metals MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHow President Biden can hit a home run Former Trump intel chief Coats introduces Biden nominee Haines at hearing Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security MORE and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser.

“The President has made it clear that his Administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actors,” the White House said.

The meeting comes as Trump continues to weather scrutiny for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last week, during which he cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s judgment that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election — a statement he later tried to clarify by saying he misspoke.

Since then, Trump has speculated on Twitter that Russia might look to meddle in the 2018 midterms to help Democratic candidates.

“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats,” the president tweeted Tuesday. “They definitely don’t want Trump!”

Trump administration officials have insisted they are taking steps to protect future elections from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.

The Department of Homeland Security has been taking the lead on helping states to protect their voting systems from malicious actors. Officials say that Russian hackers probed digital election systems in 21 states before the 2016 election for vulnerabilities and in a small number of cases successfully breached them.

Other agencies, like the Department of Justice, have implemented measures to protect against foreign influence. 

Still, Democrats in Congress believe the administration is not doing enough to protect against the threat, often citing the president’s muddled statements about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“If the President wants to convince the public that he takes protecting this country seriously, we need a solid plan of action to come from this meeting,” a group of House Democrats said in a statement ahead of Friday’s meeting. “The public needs to know that this is not just another spectacle for the President to put on.”

At Friday’s meeting, the officials discussed threats to U.S. elections from “malign foreign actors," as well as efforts to help states secure their voting systems from cyber sabotage and federal efforts to “investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who illegally attempt to interfere in our political and electoral processes.” The statement made no specific mention of Russia.

Trump has held at least one other meeting on election security with Cabinet officials in May.

U.S. officials say they have observed continued efforts by Russia to use social media and other avenues to sow discord among the American public, not unlike Moscow’s disinformation efforts in 2016. However, officials say they have not seen any evidence of a broad hacking and propaganda scheme targeting the 2018 midterms.

“We haven’t seen yet an effort to target specific election infrastructure this time, but certainly other efforts — which I would call malign influence efforts — are very active and we could be just a moment away from it going to the next level,” Wray said at the Aspen Security Forum last week. 

“To me, it’s a threat that we need to take extremely seriously,” Wray said.

Still, the Daily Beast first reported Thursday that Russian hackers tried to infiltrate the emails of Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Memo: Punish Trump or risk a repeat, warn Democrats GOP senators criticized for appearing to pay half-hearted attention to trial Hawley watches trial from visitor's gallery MORE’s (D-Mo.) staffers as she began her 2018 reelection campaign. McCaskill appeared to confirm the report in a later statement, though she described the attack as “not successful.”