During a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, President Trump insisted that Russia is no longer targeting the U.S. elections and claimed that no one has been tougher on the country.
His answer comes two days after his controversial press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin where Trump sided with Putin instead U.S. intelligence agencies over the responsibility for the 2016 election meddling.
Asked by a White House reporter if Russia is still targeting the United States, President Trump answered “no.”
Is Russia still targeting the US? Trump says, "No." pic.twitter.com/L5ZY9DE4r1
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) July 18, 2018
Trump’s stunning answer comes less than a week after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats raised the alarm on growing cyber-attack threats against the United States, saying the situation is at a “critical point.”
“The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. It is why I believe we are at a critical point,” Coats said, addressing the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, on Friday.
“Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” he said.
Coats, who took over as U.S. director of national intelligence in March 2017, compared the “warning signs” to those the U.S. faced in the months prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“It was in the months prior to September 2001 when, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet, the system is blinking red. And here we are nearly two decades later, and I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said.
Coats said the “worst offenders” are Russia, China, Iran and North Korea — with Russia the “most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Every day, those countries “are penetrating our digital infrastructure and conducting a range of cyber intrusions and attacks against targets in the United States,” he said.
Coats warned that their targets include the federal government, the US military, state and local governments, and US businesses.
Coats issued his warning on the same day that the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence agents, accusing them of engaging in a “sustained effort” to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks during the 2016 election.
Coats referred to the indictments and alluded to upcoming election threats, but said “focusing on the potential impact of these actions, on our midterm election, misses the more important point: These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. Russia actors and others are exploring vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure as well.”
Coats added, “What’s serious about the Russians is their intent. They have capabilities, but it’s their intent to undermine our basic values, undermine democracy, create wedges between us and our allies.”
Four days ago…Trump’s own DNI vs Trump moments ago. pic.twitter.com/kURapm4LfN
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) July 18, 2018
In a statement issued not long after Trump held an extraordinary news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Dan Coats said the U.S. intelligence community has “been clear” about its findings.
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the president and policymakers,” said Coats. “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.”