Russia is ‘keyboard click’ from a major election hack, US intelligence chief warns
Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and other security officials raise alarms about interference in midterms, despite President Trump’s reluctance to hold Russia accountable for 2016
Russian efforts to interfere in the coming US midterm elections have yet to reach the intensity of the Kremlin’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential vote, but they’re only “a keyboard click away” from a more serious attack, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said on Thursday.
“We have not seen that kind of robust campaign from them so far,” Coats said in a briefing at the White House.
Coats was one of five top national security leaders – the others were National Security Adviser John Bolton; FBI Director Christopher Wray; Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; and General Paul Nakasone, director of the National Security Agency – who condemned Russian efforts to interfere in US elections at the briefing.
The White House is looking to tamp down criticism that US President Donald Trump has appeared reluctant to hold Russia accountable for election tampering. He provoked an uproar at his July meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, when he cast doubt on US intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Watch: Trump claims Russia will favour Democrats in midterms
US intelligence agencies have found that Russia in 2016 launched an effort to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help Trump win. This month, special counsel Robert Mueller obtained indictments of 12 Russian officials in the GRU military intelligence agency for allegedly orchestrating the hacks of Democratic Party organisations and Democratic officials.
Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt”.
On Thursday, Coats reiterated that Russia is “looking for every opportunity, regardless of party” to disrupt US elections.
Wray added that Russian and other foreign actors are trying to suppress voting, provide illegal campaign financing and carry out cyberattacks.
“This is not just an election-cycle threat,” Wray said. “Our adversaries are attempting to undermine our country” on a persistent basis.
Watch: Trump says he misspoke about Russia’s alleged election meddling
Controversy over Trump’s stance on Russian election interference has renewed calls for more sanctions on the Putin government.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Russia, including penalties affecting sovereign debt and energy projects, and requiring a report on Putin’s assets and net worth.
On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a Democratic proposal to provide states with more election security funding ahead of the November midterm elections.