Paging Dan Coats.
Donald Trump spent all of last week in damage control mode after the following comment (delivered while standing right next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki) seemed to suggest the President of the United States is (still) inclined to believe the word of the Kremlin over that of the entire U.S. intelligence community when it comes to Russian meddling in 2016 election:
My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, 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.
The next day, Trump claimed that he meant to say “wouldn’t” rather than “would.” Here’s the clip:
Note that he implicitly blames the rest of us by saying that “it should have been obvious”.
But that couldn’t be further from reality. That is, if there’s anything in the world that is not obvious (and therefore shouldn’t be expected to be seen as such), it’s that Donald Trump trusts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of who interfered with the 2016 election. The reason why that shouldn’t be obvious is that Trump has said, on too many occasions to count (literally), that he doubts that assessment.
Trump got immediate pushback on his comments in Helsinki from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who said this hours after the Putin press conference:
The U.S. intelligence community has been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.
On Thursday, following two more epic boondoggles (one of which involved Sarah Huckabee Sanders trying to explain that when Trump said “no” to a question about whether Russia was still targeting the U.S., he was actually responding to a question about whether he would take any more questions, while the other involved the President telling ABC’s Jeff Glor that he in fact does concur with the intelligence community on Russian meddling), Dan Coats literally laughed at the proposition of Putin coming to the White House later this year.
Coats would later apologize, saying this over the weekend:
My admittedly awkward response was in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the president.
Well, he needn’t have said sorry, because on Sunday evening, Trump reversed course again, calling the whole Russian meddling narrative a “hoax”. Here’s the President:
So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election. Why didn’t he do something about it? Why didn’t he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, that’s why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2018
Got that? “It’s all a big hoax” (!!!).
So I guess they’re now drawing straws at 1600 Penn. to decide who has the misfortune of having to go in front of the press and “explain” what Trump “really” meant in that tweet.
“I said Prussia.” pic.twitter.com/Z22ReOsuaS
— Diane N. Sevenay (@Diane_7A) July 18, 2018
Oh, and for what it’s worth, here is a press release from the US Intelligence Community dated October 7, 2016.
For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.
Some states have also recently seen scanning and probing of their election-related systems, which in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company. However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government. The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion. This assessment is based on the decentralized nature of our election system in this country and the number of protections state and local election officials have in place. States ensure that voting machines are not connected to the Internet, and there are numerous checks and balances as well as extensive oversight at multiple levels built into our election process.
Nevertheless, DHS continues to urge state and local election officials to be vigilant and seek cybersecurity assistance from DHS. A number of states have already done so. DHS is providing several services to state and local election officials to assist in their cybersecurity. These services include cyber “hygiene” scans of Internet-facing systems, risk and vulnerability assessments, information sharing about cyber incidents, and best practices for securing voter registration databases and addressing potential cyber threats. DHS has convened an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group with experts across all levels of government to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks potentially affecting election infrastructure and the elections process. Secretary Johnson and DHS officials are working directly with the National Association of Secretaries of State to offer assistance, share information, and provide additional resources to state and local officials.
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