During a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minster Stefan Löfven on Tuesday, a Swedish journalist asked President Trump “what do you think Sweden should learn from how the Russian influence campaign affected the presidential election in the US?”
The question comes amid strong indications from the NSA and State Department that little is being done to stop Russia from interfering with American elections.
Trump began his response to downplaying Russia interference, which he said “had no impact on our votes whatsoever.” The president then cast doubt upon the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus conclusion — including ones offered publicly by his hand-picked officials — that the Putin regime was behind hacks and influence operations meant to help him win the presidency.
“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.
Trump then said “we’re doing a very, very deep study and coming out with very strong suggestions on the ’18 election.” But just last week, NSA Director Mike Rogers told members of Congress the administration hasn’t even authorized him to take proactive measures to disrupt meddling attempts.
Trump then pivoted, somewhat alarmingly, to a bullish prediction of Republican performance in the midterms.
“I think we will do very well in the ’18 election,” Trump said, referring to the Republican Party. “Historically, those in the White House have a little bit of a dip… I think it will be a tremendous surprise to people.“
Trump then on a long digression about how “the economy is so good” because “jobs are being protected like with the tariffs,” before mentioning Judge Gorsuch and the black unemployment rate.
The president did eventually make one concrete recommendation — using paper ballots to back up electronic records. And while that is an election security best practice, Russia’s meddling efforts involved influence operations, not the changing of votes.
The reporter followed up by asking Trump, “but are you worried about Russia trying to meddle in the midterm election?”
“No, we’ll counteract what they do, and we are having strong backup systems,” Trump replied. “We have been working, we haven’t been given credit for this but we’ve been working very hard on the ’18 election. And the ’20 election coming up. Thank you very much.”
But intelligence officials are more worried about Russian meddling in this year’s election than Trump. In addition to Rogers sounding the alarm, CIA Direct Mike Pompeo recently said he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease in [Russian] activity” ahead of November.
The CIA director made that statement in late January — right around the same time that the State Department announced it would not be imposing new sanctions on Russia that were overwhelming approved by Congress last year.
Trump’s dismissive comments about Russian interference came on the same day as director of national intelligence Dan Coats telling Congress that he expects Russia to attempt to interfere again this year.
“It’s highly likely that they will be doing something. We just don’t know how much and when and where,” Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee.