President Trump’s top intelligence and national security officials are forging ahead with plans to disrupt any Russian interference ahead of the 2018 midterms. But they may be going it alone following Trump’s performance this week at the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Just hours after Trump cast doubt on his own country’s conclusions about Moscow’s 2016 election interference at Monday’s presser, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats said the intelligence community “will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.” And on Tuesday, the day after Trump suggested he believed Putin’s denials, my colleague Ellen Nakashima reported that the National Security Agency is partnering with the military’s cyberwarfare arm to counter threats from Moscow going into November. “Trump will keep waffling on Russia’s role in the 2016 election. If Russia interferes again, the national security agencies will have no problem running their past playbook: Name and shame, indict, and sanction,” said Stewart Baker, a former Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary and former general counsel for the NSA. But, he added, “the agencies are going to have to get White House approval for anything more, and I’m guessing the president won’t grant it.”
Trump is indeed making his own administration’s push to confront Russian cyber aggression more difficult with his contradictory statements.
Yesterday Trump tried to walk back his comments, saying he accepted the intelligence findings and vowing that his administration would “do everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.” But it’s still not clear whether Trump intends to uphold his end of that promise. And the intelligence community apparently feels it has no choice but to move ahead with its agenda — even if Trump continues to undecut it.
As Ellen reported, NSA Director Paul Nakasone’s announcement that the NSA and Cyber Command would coordinate to counter potential Russian interference came without any direction from the White House.