Three top Trump administration officials have broken with their boss in affirming that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Thomas Bossert, a White House counter-terrorism adviser, all said Thursday they back the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia used cyberattacks, fake news, and other schemes to undermine public confidence in the election process and boost Trump, USA Today reported.
The comments are a highly unusual public repudiation of the president by senior aides.
Kelly (pictured) also criticized state officials who have rejected offers of federal help to combat election hacking.
The men were gathered in Aspen, Colorado, for the Aspen Security Summit.
Asked if Russia had meddled in last year’s election, Pompeo said: “Of course. And the one before that, and the one before that. [Russia] has no intention of backing off.”
Bossert and Kelly both echoed Pompeo.
“There is a pretty clear and easy answer to that, and that is yes,” said Bossert, suggesting the U.S. should do more. “Not one bad actor is paying for their actions.”
Pompeo then was asked how his view jibed with that of Trump, who continues to equivocate about whether Russia was responsible.
“My team is fully engaged; my team understands the threat. It is not always the case that you can convince the policy maker.”
Asked last week about the issue, Trump still wouldn’t say Russia interfered, even though his intelligence services long since reached that conclusion.
“We have to protect ourselves no matter who it is,” Trump said. “You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this.”
Kelly also took the chance to speak out against states that haven’t taken DHS up on its offer to help protect their election systems against foreign cyberattacks. In January, DHS designated election systems as critical infrastructure, a move aimed at making it easier for the federal government to offer resources to states.
But some states have seen the move as a threat to their authority run elections on their own.
“We don’t want you involved in our election policies,” Kelly said some state election officials have told him.
“I think they would be nuts if they don’t accept help,” he said.
One state election official who has seemed to resist federal involvement is Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who is also a member of the White House voting commission. She told a Senate panel last month that federal interference is itself as big a threat as foreign cyberattacks.