JUL 17, 2018: In a move not cleared by the White House, the top intelligence official in the United States has refuted President Donald Trump’s remarks in Helsinki — unequivocally affirming that the Russian government did act to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement Monday.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. “And we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Coats’ statement broke with Trump, who expressed doubts at the Helsinki summit with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin about the intelligence community’s finding.
“[Putin] just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Putin. “I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Putin again on Monday denied his government interfered in the U.S. vote.
Trump’s remarks have drawn widespread criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
A senior intelligence official told CNN Coats was not cleared with the White House to issue the statement.
Last year, the U.S. intelligence community — the CIA, FBI — said their investigation found Russian agents attempted to sway the vote in Trump’s favor, and that Putin had likely approved the efforts.
Coats is Trump’s most senior Cabinet-level intelligence authority and oversees U.S. intelligence operations.
“With Trump’s repudiation of U.S. Intelligence, Director Dan Coats should resign in protest and disgust,” former CIA official Larry Pfeiffer said.
Leon Panetta, who served as both CIA director and secretary of defense in the Obama administration, told Newsweek Coats’ role in the Trump Cabinet is critical.
“I like having a few sane voices around this president, and he happens to be one of those,” Panetta said. “I just think it’s better for them to be on the inside, particularly trying to provide at least some degree of discipline for this president.”
Trump’s remarks came as a shock not only because they refuted the intelligence community’s position, but because they also seem to go against the actions of his own Justice Department. Last week, the department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges of interfering in the November 2016 vote.
In February, Coats, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers told the Senate intelligence committee Putin’s government meddled in the election.
After the summit, Trump reiterated his stance.
“As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.’ However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past,” he tweeted. “As the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along.”