WASHINGTON — The top U.S. intelligence official on Monday stood by what he called “clear” assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election after President Donald Trump cast doubt on that conclusion following a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The statement from Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, did not directly reference Trump’s comments at a news conference alongside Putin in Helsinki. But it came just two-and-a-half hours after Trump said that while he had “great confidence” in U.S. intelligence, Putin’s denial of election meddling was “extremely strong and powerful.”
Warning lights about cyber threats to U.S. national security are “blinking red” and the digital attempts to undermine America are occurring daily, not just at election time, the nation’s top intelligence official said Friday.
Coats said that the role of the intelligence community is “to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the president and policymakers.”
"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," he said.
Trump has long been at odds with his own intelligence community, largely clashing over a report released by U.S. intelligence officials concluding that Putin ordered "an influence campaign" in 2016 aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Just days before the Helsinki summit, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking into Democrat email accounts and releasing stolen information during the election.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said the U.S. is “under attack” in cyberspace and that Russia would step up its election meddling in 2018, spurring lawmakers to vent fears the U.S. is falling behind its adversaries.
Putin on Monday repeated the Russian denial of election interference, calling it "nonsense." Trump himself sounded sympathetic to the Russian position, saying: "I don't see any reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election."
Days before the summit, Coats had spoken publicly of his concerns about cyber threats to U.S. national security and singled out Russia as the most aggressive foreign actor in that arena.
"The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, in coordination with international partners, have detected Russian government actors targeting government and businesses in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors," Coats said at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington on Friday.
He went on to warn that Russia remains capable of launching an interference campaign on 2018 midterm elections similar to what occurred in 2016 "we are just one click on a keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself," he said.
When asked about Coat’s assessment in an interview with CBS news Saturday, President Trump said “I don’t know if I agree with that.”