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In recent months, U.S. national security officials have been preparing for Russian interference in the 2020 presidential race by tracking cyber threats, sharing intelligence about foreign disinformation efforts with social media companies, and helping state election officials protect their systems against foreign manipulation.

But these actions are at odds with statements from President Donald Trump, who has rebuffed warnings from his senior aides about Russia and sought to play down that country's potential to influence American politics.

The president's rhetoric and lack of focus on election security has made it tougher for government officials to implement a more comprehensive approach to preserving the integrity of the electoral process, current and former officials said.

Officials insist that they have made progress since 2016 in hardening defenses. And top security officials, including the director of national intelligence, say the president has given them "full support" in their efforts to counter malign activities.

But some analysts worry that by not sending a clear, public signal that he understands the threat foreign interference poses, Trump is inviting more of it.

In the past week, Justice Department prosecutors indicated that Russia's efforts to disrupt the 2016 election are part of a long-term strategy that the United States continues to confront.

Special counsel Robert Mueller called Russia's 2016 operations "sweeping and systematic," and noted in his report on Russian meddling in the campaign that his office passed information about possible counterintelligence value to the FBI, as part of the bureau's mission to impede foreign spies in the United States. Officials have said that work continues, separate from the special counsel's now-closed investigation.

For more than two years, however, Trump has recoiled when aides broached Russia's 2016 theft and dissemination of Democratic emails and its manipulation of social media in an effort to sway the election.

Last week, some of Trump's top advisers echoed his sentiments. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, dismissed the significance of the 2016 interference as Russia "buying some Facebook ads." And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's lawyers, implied that future Kremlin assistance might even be welcome when he told CNN that "there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians."

In two meetings in the White House in recent months, Trump said repeatedly that Russia's efforts didn't change a single vote, even though his advisers have never suggested that they did, and he continually insisted that the campaign was not "hacked," according to people who were present or were briefed about the meetings.

During discussions in the Oval Office, Trump has regularly conflated the threat of foreign interference with attacks on the legitimacy of his election, the current and former officials said.

But senior security officials say the president directed them to ensure that the 2018 midterm elections were protected.

"On this issue, I want the American people to know that when we needed to brief the president or talk to the American people on the topic of election security in the run-up to the 2018 midterms, the intelligence community had the full support of the [National Security Council] and the White House," Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said in a statement. "I know, because I specifically asked the president for certain capabilities on behalf of the intelligence community, and he quickly agreed and also encouraged several of us to speak to the American people. That support has not changed."

The National Security Agency has tracked intelligence overseas that might point to efforts by Russians or other adversaries to break into U.S. computer networks or mount influence operations. The agency has shared that intelligence with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security so that officials there can warn social media companies and other potential targets.

U.S. Cyber Command, pursuant to a presidential directive, blocked Internet access to Russian trolls as Americans voted in November.

The FBI established a Foreign Influence Task Force in 2017 that is monitoring efforts to mount influence operations, whether by targeting vulnerable Americans, creating fake personas on social media, or conducting cyberattacks on political parties and elected officials. The task force works closely with the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as social media companies.

The department has contacted officials in all 50 states to help secure their election infrastructures, and is sharing threat data with state and local election offices, social media firms, political parties and others. Election security and foreign influence task forces the department set up in 2017 have been made permanent under its new National Risk Management Center.

Officials said these measures and others have been taken regardless of the lack of explicit direction from the president.

"We don't seek daily validation from the White House on what our mission should be or is," one official said. "We have clear authorities. We have budget. We're grown-ups here."

A Section on 04/30/2019

Print Headline: President plays down threat to election security


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  • 23cal
    April 30, 2019 at 6:55 a.m.

    "Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's lawyers, implied that future Kremlin assistance might even be welcome when he told CNN that "there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians."
    Donnie needed Russia's help last time, knows he will get it again, expects to get it, and plans to embrace it while denying it happened.....again.

  • PopMom
    April 30, 2019 at 7:49 a.m.

    Trump wants to win again by cheating.

  • LRCrookAtty
    April 30, 2019 at 8 a.m.

    PM..."Trump wants to win again by cheating."
    As Packman has pointed out several times, the Mueller report demonstrated that he won fair and square. Get over it. Trump won because Hillary was a horrible candidate.

  • mozarky2
    April 30, 2019 at 8:23 a.m.

    LRCA, those people are beyond help. They were mentally ill before Trump won the presidency, then they became insane. Now that Mueller has exonerated President Trump, they've gone bat-s**t crazy.
    But I do enjoy poking them with a stick from time to time!

  • RobertBolt
    April 30, 2019 at 8:27 a.m.

    lrcrookatty, can you provide the "fair and square" citation from Mueller, or did you just make it up? Trump publicly sought interference via the crucial, timed release by foreign agents of stolen material and received it, and then many lied about many contacts with foreign agents, resulting in many convictions. Even if not prosecuted, that behavior is not "fair and square," and stating so calls into question your judgment.

  • hah406
    April 30, 2019 at 8:32 a.m.

    The Mueller report was pretty clear that the Russians interfered in all kinds of ways in the election, and did so specifically to benefit Trump. It also said that Trump did not conspire with the Russians for that help. Finally, his public statements clearly indicated that he welcomed their assistance.
    However, that is in the past. The questionable thing now is, why isn't Trump taking this interference seriously? If he wants his doubters to believe his presidency is legit, he needs to see to it that all possible efforts are undertaken to prevent Russian interference. Thus far, he refuses to do so.

  • PopMom
    April 30, 2019 at 9:03 a.m.

    Again, Hah nails it. The Mueller report does NOT conclude that Russian interference did not help sway the election. In fact, the Mueller Report details the huge efforts the Russians made to influence the election such as financing rallies in Florida and a network of social media and internet trolls. While Hillary did many stupid things to throw this election away, she probably would have won if we did not know that she cheated on the debate questions in the primary. Many of us Democrats literally had to hold our noses to vote for her. However, had the Russians decided to spill the beans on Trump, we likely would have learned much worse things such as his financial dealings. There is a reason that he will not release his tax returns and is suing the Deutsche Bank NOT to release his sweetheart loan records which may show that he is in debt to Putin. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court makes him cough this stuff up. I suspect that they won't 5-4. You also can be that if Trump wins a narrow election through a rigged election there may be rioting in this country. This man is making us more divided than we have been since the Civil War.

  • glh05230944
    April 30, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    Trump continues to demonstrate that he is a Russian Agent.

  • mrcharles
    April 30, 2019 at 9:44 a.m.

    Robert you forget the LRCatty is a most famous lawyer, perhaps not as famous as Ruby the "family" man G, but them there lawyers like to play word games. What he meant is DT still believes putin and as we see every time they are together putin looks like the cat who swallowed the canary or has a grin. body language shows he knows DT is a clown, but his clown. Sadly the inner cowardice of the usual suspects here have shown , despite being repeatedly asked, Do you too believe putin like Dt does?

    "Now", that Mueller has exonerated President Trump, which was today was just issued by the Indian army... just after they announced finding a foot print of yeti.

    hey, hey, and nice, very nice, about the words of Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, a fox fair and balanced commentator on the clear exoneration and finding of saint hood [ many miracles] for DT. the vicar of christ's church on earth is thinking of replacing sir thomas moore [ he who put people on the rack for the terrible crime of having english bibles.. in an english speaking country..sounds like the start of the gop party] as the patron said of politicians with the DT, putin's puppy.

    Just because RR's reference to the evil empire is not timely due to the empire being mostly gone, the word evil is not a non useful term for putin's land where they praise DT. coincidence...Think again.

    I can only conclude after reading the Moz and his lesser imps, they do not have the capacity for reasonable deduction from facts or they just do like DT and his shock of jellyfish does, lie and call it..(a) slip of tongue; (b) a joke, (c) look there is a car chase.

    got to give them ruskie's credit, couldnt build workable washing machines, or provide basic consumer goods , or keep up with us in the arms race, they figured a way to deal blows to our not so innocent country.

    scary to think moz drives down the highway with having all those rules to deal with about the Rules of the road.

  • PopMom
    April 30, 2019 at 9:47 a.m.