Vice President Mike Pence directly criticized Russia for the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 US elections during a speech Tuesday in New York City.
“While other nations possessed the capability, the fact is, Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” Pence said. “That is the unambiguous judgment of our intelligence community, and as the President said, we ‘accept the intelligence community’s conclusion.’”
The vice president added that Russia’s goal was to sow discord and division and weaken the American people’s faith in democracy.
Pence was the keynote speaker at a Department of Homeland Security-sponsored National Cyber Summit, which featured other administration officials such as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
His comments were clearer than what President Donald Trump suggested during a press conference earlier this month as he stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the time, Trump said there may be other countries that interfered in the 2016 elections, in addition to Russia.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place – could be other people also,” Trump asserted during that Helsinki press conference.
Trump later said he holds Putin personally responsible for Russian interference in the election.
“I would because he’s in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” Trump said in an interview with CBS following the summit. “So certainly as the leader of the country you would have to hold him responsible.”
Pence spoke at length about the integrity of the ballot box towards the end of his speech, promising that the Trump administration takes the threat of election interference seriously.
“We will continue to work tirelessly to prevent foreign nations and malign actors from hacking into our election infrastructure and changing votes or election outcomes,” he said.
Pence listed actions taken since the revelations of the 2016 election interference, pointing to the formation of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force and $380 million in aid for states to help them ensure the security of their election systems, such as upgrading voting machines.
The vice president also placed blame on the previous administration for, he said, not meeting its responsibilities in the cyber sphere, saying that the Obama administration “let the American people down when it came to cyber defense.” Pence cited a 2014 hack by a foreign government into the White House network, saying that the last administration “chose silence and paralysis over strength and action.”