President Trump chaired a meeting Friday of his most senior national security advisers to discuss the administration’s effort to safeguard November’s elections from Russian interference, the first such meeting he’s led on the matter, but issued no new directives to counter or deter the threat.
The meeting, which lasted less than an hour, covered all the activities by federal agencies to help state and local election officials, and to investigate and hold accountable Russian hackers seeking to undermine American democracy.
“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actors,” the White House said in a statement.
Trump’s National Security Council meeting follows his widely criticized news conference this month in Helsinki, where he stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin and seemed to discount the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump’s remarks were striking, too, since only three days earlier 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted by the United States on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“This meeting should have happened months ago and the President deserves no special credit for doing what he is charged to do . . . by his oath of office,” said Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Robert A. Brady (Pa.), Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking Democrats on, respectively, the Homeland Security, House Administration, Oversight and Government Reform, and Judiciary committees.
Already, at least three congressional candidates have been targeted by Russian military hackers. None of the attempts was successful, according to an executive with Microsoft, who discussed the operation at a security conference last week. One of the targets was Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who faces a tough reelection bid.
The FBI task force works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and foreign allies who are also combating Russia’s malign activities.
The Justice Department last week announced a new policy of exposing covert actions by foreign governments to undermine confidence in democratic institutions such as U.S. elections, often through cyberhacking and disinformation campaigns.
Spaulding, who was undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate in the Obama administration, lauded the agencies for doing what they can on their own but said a White House-led strategy is important to maximize their efforts.
“You want to make sure that as you’re preparing a plan for countering Russian interference that you bring to bear all the resources, capabilities and authorities you have across the government,” Spaulding said. “You don’t get that if each department and agency is just trying to operate within their own little sphere.”