Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats maintained that Russia interfered in the 2016 election after President Donald Trump refused to say he believed the intelligence community over Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
During a joint press conference with Putin, Trump said "I have confidence in both parties" when asked if he believed his own administration's intelligence chiefs over Putin.
"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," Trump said.
Coats shot back on Monday afternoon in a statement sent from DNI's official email service, stating unequivocally that Russia not only interfered in the election, but that its "efforts to undermine our democracy" are ongoing:
"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."
The intelligence community — a collection of federal intelligence agencies — unanimously agrees that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and showed a clear preference for Trump. Putin has denied that he or his government interfered in the election or colluded with the Trump campaign, though he has said he supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in that election.
Trump has shown reluctance to accept the intelligence community's findings and on Monday appeared to give Putin more support than Coats at times.
"I don’t see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked the opposition party, Trump said. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
Trump elaborated on that comment in a tweet later on Monday.
Trump's doubts about Coats' intelligence findings appear to echo earlier comments he made in an interview with CBS News on Saturday.
Coats recently said America's digital infrastructure is "literally under attack," saying the U.S. is at a "critical point" and compared the "warning signs" of a large-scale cyberattack with the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Asked about Coats' exhortation, Trump told CBS' Jeff Glor, "Well, I — I don't know if I agree with that. I'd have to look. But I have a lot of respect for Dan."