Trump huddles with top officials on election security

Trump huddles with top officials on election security
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Conservative group hits White House with billboard ads: 'What is Trump hiding?' Pompeo: 'No mistake' Trump warned Russian diplomat about election tampering MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official MORE, Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter 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 McCaskillGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle MSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' 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.”