The Slatest

Dan Coats Insists Russia Is Trying to Meddle in the 2018 Elections, Still Can’t Explain Helsinki

Dan Coats and Christopher Wray in White House briefing room.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray brief the media on election interference at the White House on Thursday.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was joined by several other high-ranking national security officials before the White House press briefing Thursday to say that, yes, Russia is still trying to interfere in U.S. election and, yes, the Trump administration takes this very seriously.

President Donald J. Trump, the titular head of the executive branch, on the other hand, referred to the current special counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign as a “witch hunt” three times Wednesday.

“In regards to Russian involvement in the midterm elections, we continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” Coats said. “The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.”

When asked to explain the contrast between Trump’s failure in Helsinki to condemn Russian interference in the 2016 campaign (and his doubt that it happened at all) and his having “specifically directed” national security officials to secure elections from similar Russian attacks, Coats could only say that he was “not in a position to either understand fully, or talk about, what happened at Helsinki.”

National security adviser John Bolton assured the reporters that the “first issue” Trump raised during his meeting with Vladimir Putin was election meddling—after all, Putin said so.