Given recent developments, Donald Trump should probably go out of his way to endorse the U.S. intelligence community’s findings, especially when it comes to Russia and election interference.
And yet, the president just can’t seem to help himself. [Update: see below]
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he does not believe Russia is still targeting the U.S., day after he attempted to quell the backlash over his widely rebuked comments in Helsinki where he contradicted his intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election.
“No,” the president answered when asked if Russia is still trying to influence American elections.
That may seem like an unusually brief quote, so pay careful attention to the context. Trump was wrapping up a White House meeting, and an aide was trying to clear reporters from the room. What often happens, however, is that the president will engage in some brief, impromptu Q&A.
With that in mind, a reporter asked if Russia is still targeting the United States ahead of this year’s midterm elections, and Trump offered a one-word response: “No.”
The trouble, of course, is that the president is almost certainly wrong. We know this with some certainty because the Trump administration has told us so.
The New York Times reported the other day on the latest warnings that the president may have missed.
The nation’s top intelligence officer said on Friday that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, came on the same day that 12 Russian agents were indicted on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Coats said those indictments illustrated Moscow’s continuing strategy to undermine the United States’ democracy and erode its institutions.
Speaking at a scheduled event at the Hudson Institute, Coats referenced the concerns among intelligence officials in the months leading up to 9/11, when the “system was blinking red.” He added, “Here we are, nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.”
In the same remarks, Coats said the United States’ digital infrastructure “is literally under attack,” the efforts are “persistent” and “pervasive,” and among our foes, Russia is the “worst offender.”
Which brings us to a familiar point: if Trump doesn’t believe U.S. intelligence, why not? Does it have something to do with assurances he may have received from Vladimir Putin?
Update: Though reporters in the room and lawmakers from both parties all believe Trump’s answer was in response to the question about Russia’s ongoing efforts, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today Trump’s “no” was referring to something else.
Then again, Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ track record isn’t great, so perhaps it’s best to take her denial with a grain of salt.