DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday declined to say she agrees that Russian election interference was designed to help President Donald Trump, though she said she accepts the US intelligence community’s assessment that concluded just that.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Nielsen created some confusion when she seemed to deny that the Russian attacks on US elections were designed to help Trump. She was responding to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander about her May comments to CNN’s Manu Raju that she had not seen that conclusion.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” Nielsen said Thursday. “I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides. … I think the overall purpose is to sow discord and get us all to fight against each other rather than understand who the enemy is.”
Pressed by Alexander that the intelligence community concluded it was to help Trump, Nielsen said “certain political parties …more than others” were attacked and that DHS was focused on preparing for the future.
After her comments in May, DHS later clarified that Nielsen agrees with the US intelligence assessment. That joint statement from the full US intelligence community in 2017 concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign during the 2016 US presidential election with goals that included harming Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The Russian government “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and tried to help his election chances, the assessment stated.
But later in Thursday’s interview, Nielsen reiterated she agrees with the intelligence assessment.
“I do not disagree. I agree completely, I’ve said that many times, with the intel assessment,” Nielsen said. “What I’m trying to focus my comments on is the fact that they have the capability and the will. And what the role of DHS is, is to prepare for them to continue to try to use both foreign influence and direct attacks on infrastructure to effect the results of our election.”
CNN’s Jim Sciutto followed up by asking Nielsen to clarify where she stood, and whether she would state unequivocally that Russia’s “intention was to help Donald Trump and disadvantage Hillary Clinton.”
“I agree with the intel community’s assessment, full stop,” Nielsen replied. “The intel community is made up of professionals who do this for a living, who are dedicated public servants. I absolutely believe their assessment.”
CNN’s Jim Sciutto and David Shortell contributed to this report.