DHS chief says ‘too soon’ to tell if Trump-Putin relationship will have any real impact
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The nation’s top Homeland Security official, charged with helping to stop foreign hackers from breaking into U.S. systems, says it’s still not clear whether President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week will produce any significant results, but Trump “continues to work on the relationship.”
“I think it’s too early to tell, ‘Was it good?’” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said of Trump’s meeting with Putin.
Speaking Thursday at the annual Aspen Security Forum, Nielsen said Trump’s efforts to connect with Putin and establish “productive conversation” are “very important,” noting that Trump is “interested in continuing the engagement.”
“He’s continuing to think about strategies,” trying to determine “what is most important on the list to work with Vladimir Putin,” who Nielsen said has “a particular goal” to become a “strong power” and “counter American power.”
Nevertheless, in the wake of several controversial comments and clarifications by Trump, Nielsen became the latest senior U.S. official to publicly state that Russia definitely was behind the massive foreign campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I don’t think there’s any question in the intelligence community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system,” Nielsen said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt they did it.”
On Monday, while standing next to Putin in Helsinki, Trump questioned the unanimous conclusions of his own intelligence agencies and suggested Russia was not responsible for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, a massive effort to spread “fake news” on social media, or other steps to interfere in American democracy.
After a political uproar, Trump posted a message on Twitter the next day insisting: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”
On Tuesday, the president said: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that meddling took place,” as he read from remarks. He added that it “could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
In Aspen, Colorado, on Thursday, Nielsen said Russia was solely responsible.
“We did not see other nation states involved in the election system meddling,” She said. “It was Russia.”
And with only months way until midterm elections across the United States, Nielsen warned that Americans would “be foolish” to think Russia won’t launch another assault on U.S. democracy.
“I think we should all be prepared, given [their] capability and will, that they’ll do it again,” she said. “We should be absolutely prepared to assume that they will try to interfere in all 50 states.”
A top DHS official described the current threat from Russia as a “nuanced” one.
While DHS “right now” has not seen “the targeting of the state and local systems that we saw in 2016,” Russia is still engaged in trying to influence Americans and sow discord through social media and other means, Assistant Secretary Jeanette Manfra said Thursday.
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