Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen revealed on Tuesday she’s unfamiliar with the intelligence community’s consensus finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of President Trump — a finding that was made public in an assessment released 16 months ago.
Following a meeting about election security measures, Nielsen — whose office oversees election security — was asked by CNN’s Manu Raju if she “has any reason to doubt the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that said it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in this election to help President Trump win?”
Nielsen responded as though she had never heard of the assessment before.
“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion,” Nielsen said. “That the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I am not aware of that — but I generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.”
Later, Raju followed up, asking Nielsen if she has “any disagreement” with the assessment’s conclusion “that Putin orchestrated this cyber campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump.”
Nielson dodged the question by asserting that Russia attempted to “manipulate public confidence on both sides.”
“I think what they’re trying to do in my opinion, and I defer to the intelligence community, is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what is happening,” Nielsen said.
Following the news conference, DHS released a statement that sought to clarify Nielsen’s remarks — but that falsely claimed her comments were not at odds with the intelligence assessment’s unequivocal conclusion that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” that aimed to “denigrate Secretary Clinton” because of the Russian government’s “clear preference for Trump.”
DHS is now claiming that @mkraju's question "did not reflect the specific language in the [IC] assessment," but that's false. The report said Russia tried to help Trump win, which is what Manu said.
DHS's statement is directly at odds with Nielsen's comments. pic.twitter.com/JsjzMTmvQz
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) May 22, 2018
Nielsen’s lack of seriousness about Russian meddling reflects the Trump administration’s disposition more broadly.
In February, NSA Director Mike Rogers told members of Congress that the Trump administration hadn’t even authorized him to take measures to prevent election meddling going forward, and warned the country is “probably not doing enough” to prevent meddling in future elections.
During a news conference about a week later, Trump cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment.
“Probably there was meddling from other countries, maybe other individuals,” he said, echoing the infamous comment he made during one of the presidential debates about how a “guy sitting on his bed who weighs 400 pounds” may have been responsible for Democratic hacks, not Russia.
Tuesday’s comments weren’t the first time Nielsen has been confused about very basic facts. During congressional testimony in January, Nielsen defended Trump’s racist characterization of African nations as “shithole countries” and preference for immigrants from places like Norway by claiming she isn’t sure if Norway is predominately white.
“I’m — I — eh, I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that’s the case,” Nielsen told Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) in response to his question about whether “Norway is a predominately white country.”