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The leaders of four U.S. intelligence agencies reaffirmed at the White House on Thursday the "pervasive" and "ongoing" threats from foreign actors, including Russia, to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections.
President Donald Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, announced the agency chiefs — FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and NSA Director Paul Nakasone — at a White House press briefing.
The leaders said Trump has directed a governmentwide initiative to protect American elections in the wake of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential vote. Bolton said Trump has chaired two full National Security Council meetings, as well as "countless" other discussions on the subject.
"The threat is real. It is continuing," Coats said, later adding, "We are doing everything we can to have a legitimate election."
Yet the officials' united front at the White House was a contrast from the president's reticence to acknowledge the ongoing problem of attacks on U.S. elections.
At a news conference in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, Trump refused to side with the conclusions of his own intelligence community over the Kremlin when given an opportunity to do so. Trump said he had "confidence in both" the U.S. officials, who say Russia meddled in the election, and Putin, who denied any interference.
At the White House on Thursday, the intelligence and security officials stood in agreement that efforts are underway from foreign adversaries to impact both the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election.
Nielsen said that U.S. democracy is "in the crosshairs" of foreign adversaries seeking to sow discord in American life.
While the officials were circumspect on the specifics of the ongoing efforts to fight back against election threats abroad, Nielsen's department and others said they are providing information and assistance to state and local governments to help counter interference efforts.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested in a tweet that Trump's history on Russia did not back up the message of the press conference.
Asked if the Russian attacks served to benefit any specific political party in the U.S., Coats said that country is "looking for every opportunity, regardless of party," to meddle in elections.
A January 2017 intelligence community assessment said Russia's efforts to impact the 2016 election showed a "clear preference" for Trump over Hillary Clinton. Trump has recently claimed, however, that Russians will be "pushing very hard" for Democrats to win elections in the November midterms, asserting "They definitely don't want Trump!"
Nielsen, too, has said on multiple occasions that she was "not aware" of the conclusion that the Kremlin meddling campaign favored Trump.