Nation's intelligence chief explains public rebuke of Trump, says he was just doing his job

  • Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described Russian interference in American elections as “undeniable” during an interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
  • His comments served as another rebuke to President Donald Trump.
  • On Monday, he pushed back on Trump’s assertion that cast doubt on US intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
  • When asked why he issued his statement on Monday, Coats said he was just doing his job.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, in an interview Thursday, described Russian interference in American elections as “undeniable” in comments that serve as another public rebuke to President Donald Trump.

“It is undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on” election meddling, Coats toldNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in Aspen, Colorado. “They are the ones trying to undermine our basic values. … We need to call them out on that. It is critical that we do so.”

Standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, Trump cited Putin’s denials of Russia’s election meddling and cast doubt over US intelligence agencies’ conclusions on the matter.

“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,” Trump said.

Coats issued a statement later that day.

“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 evidence in support of our national security,” he said.

When asked by Mitchell why he issued his statement on Monday in response to Trump, Coats said he was just doing his job.

Coats also admitted that he wished Trump issued a different statement on Monday.

On Tuesday, during a meeting at the White House, Trump said he misspoke a day earlier when he didn’t back up the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia meddled in the election.

On Wednesday during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, however, Trump seemed to respond “no” when asked whether the US is still a target of Russian-led cyberattacks and meddling into elections. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump was saying “no” to taking more questions during the Cabinet meeting.

While speaking at an event at the Hudson Institute last Friday, Coats said the “warning signs” of threats to US cybersecurity infrastructure he sees today are reminiscent of the warnings before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” he said. “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 named Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea as the main threats to US cybersecurity. But he added that, in his view, Russia is “most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”

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