U.S. national security experts presented a united front Thursday to warn that Russia continues to try to undermine U.S. democracy and reaffirmed that the nation-state had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, just hours before the president told a crowd at a Pennsylvania rally that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's “Russian hoax” was hindering the U.S. relationship with Russia.
"In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," Trump said, contending that getting along is “a good thing.”
Earlier that afternoon, though, FBI Director Christopher Wray, speaking from the White House briefing room with other national security experts by his side, pledged "fierce determination and focus" on shutting down Russia's efforts to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.
“Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day,” he said.
The threat is “real,” “pervasive,” and “ongoing,” meant to “drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values,” Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats said, stressing that “we're doing everything we can to have a legitimate election.”
Both Microsoft and Facebook have revealed in the last couple of weeks that they've found evidence that Russia is attempting to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections via influence campaigns and cyberattacks, much like it did in 2016 – but with growing sophistication.
With democracy “in the crosshairs,” the U.S. has made real strides protecting its elections, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed, saying that “all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and over 900 local governments have partnered with DHS” to make the election infrastructure more resilient.
“The nation's elections are more resilient today because of the work we are all doing,” she said, while stressing there is more work to be done to protect democracy.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the administration now has to put actions to words. “Glad to see the White House finally do something about election security — even if it's only a news conference,” he tweeted about the public meeting, which also included NSA Director Gen. Paul M. Nakasone and White House National Security Adviser John R. Bolton. “Now if only it was actually backed up by anything the President has said or done on Russia.”
Determined to show Russia the full wrath of the U.S. government for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, a bevy of Democratic and Republican senators Thursday pushed a bill that would, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “impose crushing sanctions and other measures” on the nation-state until Putin puts a halt to meddling in U.S. elections and cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.
A day before, though, Senate Republicans voted down a Democratic amendment that would have provided $250 million in grants to help states bolster election security.