White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that President Donald Trump did not intend to say that Russia is no longer targeting the United States during a Cabinet meeting earlier Wednesday.
During a meeting with his Cabinet, Trump said “no” after he was asked if Russia is still targeting the U.S., contradicting top advisers such as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.
“Thank you very much,” Trump said to the reporter. “No.”
During a regular press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Sanders said that Trump was saying “no” to the idea of answering more questions, adding that “we believe the threat still exists” and listing other efforts the Administration is taking to fight potential Russian interference.
In a speech last week, Coats compared the “warning signs” of Russian digital threats to the early signals visible before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“The warning signs are there,” he said. “The system is blinking. It is why I believe we are at a critical point. Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
In a statement Monday, Coats reiterated that Russia is responsible for “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Coats released that statement after Trump repeatedly declined to take Russian President Vladimir Putin to task for meddling in the 2016 election during a joint press conference in Helsinki. The following day, Trump read a clarification claiming that he had meant to say that Russia interfered, although he ad-libbed that “other people” may have also been involved.
Concern about ongoing Russian hacking efforts was shared by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in a court filing for the case brought against 13 Russian defendants and three Russian companies earlier this year. The document stated that they believe Russian officials “are continuing to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment.”
In an appearance before a House committee last week, Christopher Krebs, the top official overseeing cybersecurity and elections for the Department of Homeland Security, said that he has seen no evidence of a concerted effort by Russia to hack the upcoming elections.
But he said the “midterms remain a potential target for Russian actors.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a group of state secretaries of state that while there are no signs yet of Russians targeting the midterm elections with the same “scale or scope” as 2016, there are “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people.”