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The Russia connectionRussia interfered in 2016 election, continuing “malign influence operations to this day”: FBI Director Wray

Published 20 July 2018

FBI director Chris Wray on Wednesday pushed back against President Donald Trump’s recent comments that cast doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Monday, two hours after the Trump-Putin summit, Director of National Security Dan Coats issued a terse statement reaffirming his agreement with the U.S intelligence community’s conclusions. “My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day,” Wray told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt at the Aspen Security Forum.

FBI director Chris Wray on Wednesday pushed back against President Donald Trump’s recent comments that cast doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

On Monday, two hours after the Trump-Putin summit, Director of National Security Dan Coats issued a terse statement reaffirming his agreement with the U.S intelligence community’s conclusions.

“My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day,” Wray told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt at the Aspen Security Forum.

Fox News reports that Wray also reaffirmed his position backing the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump told a reporter “no” when asked whether he believed Russia continued to target the United States — although White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later claimed that the president was simply saying “no” more questions.

On Tuesday, talking to reporters before a cabinet meeting, Trump read a statement carefully prepared for him by his aides, aiming to walk back statements he made a day before in Helsinki during a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. With the Russian president standing next to him, Trump accorded equal weight to the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion about the Putin-directed 2016 Russian interference – and Putin’s denial of that interference effort.

Trump read the following sentence his aides prepared for him: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

He then lifted his eyes from the paper and ad-libbed: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

Experts note that this improvised verbal addition demonstrate yet again Trump’s refusal to accept the reality of Russian 2016 interference.

The unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community is based on national technical means (sigint), digital forensics, and human resources inside the Russian intelligence apparatus. That conclusion stipulates, in an iron-clad, incontrovertible fashion, not only that Russian intelligence agencies, on direct orders from Putin, engaged in a broad hacking and disinformation effort to help Trump win the November election – but that it could not have been anyone else who carried out this interference campaign.

Saying “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there,” is thus not an idle, permissible speculation by an individual who does not have access to the most sensitive intelligence information. Under the specific circumstances, and with regard to this specific case – and in light of the fact that the whole purpose of reading the statement prepared for him by his aides was to reassure Americans that the president of the United States does accept the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community over the predictable denials of the leader of an adversary power – Trump’s speculative ad-libbing amounts to a rejection of the intelligence community’s conclusions.

NBC reports that when asked if he had threatened to resign, Wray did not explicitly confirm that he had done so.

“There have also been stories that you threatened to resign. Have you ever hit a point on that issue of sources and methods or anything else when you said, this is a line?” Holt asked Wray.

“I’m a low-key, understated guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of. I’ll just leave it at that,” Wray answered.

He was sworn into the position of FBI Director in August 2017, replacing Comey, whose abrupt firing prompted the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference and possible collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign. Trump has repeatedly called Mueller’s probe a witch hunt — a label Wray rejected.

I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt. I think it’s a professional investigation conducted by a man that I’ve known to be a straight shooter.”