The nation’s intelligence chief contradicted President Trump’s statements on North Korea, Syria and Russia while addressing the Senate on Tuesday, arguing that ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States despite the Administration’s claims that it has been defeated.
Director of U.S. National Intelligence Dan Coats released the results of the Worldwide Threat Assessment, which describes the biggest international dangers facing the United States, and told lawmakers during the Senate hearing that the U.S. must “keep our eyes on” ISIS.
“While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria,” Coats said.
Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by ISIS to justify his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria — a plan that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. After abruptly announcing plans to pull troops from the country last month, Trump tweeted that the U.S. has “defeated ISIS in Syria.” A few days later, Trump walked back his statement, claiming that the group is “largely defeated” and that U.S. allies — including Turkey and Saudi Arabia — can finish them off.
Coats also appeared to contradict Trump’s statements about the threat posed by North Korea. Last June, Trump tweeted that there is “No longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
And earlier in January, Trump also said there didn’t seem to be signs that North Korea is advancing its nuclear program: “Now, I say this: North Korea, we’re doing very well. And again, no rockets. There’s no rockets. There’s no anything. We’re doing very well.”
But Coats told lawmakers that while North Korea has halted its nuclear program for now, the country doesn’t appear willing to give up on the weapons entirely.
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities, and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.,” he said. “Our assessment is bolstered by our observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization.”
Coats also emphasized that Russia continues to pose a danger to the U.S. political process. He said that he “especially” hopes that U.S. intelligence will concentrate on the threat posed by the country currently under scrutiny in the Mueller probe.
“We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” he said. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts in previous elections.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the validity of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, arguing that investigators are politically motivated.
Trump also expressed uncertainty that he can trust U.S. intelligence over Russian President Vladimir Putin after he met with the foreign leader in Helsinki last July.
“All I can do is ask the question,” Trump said at the time. “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.
Read the full text of Tuesday’s Senate hearing below.