Is Russia still trying to meddle in American democracy or not? In February, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress that it is: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” The directors of the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency all agreed.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said otherwise.
As The New York Times reports, “Trump’s comments were the latest in a dizzying collection of conflicting statements from Mr. Trump since he emerged from a private meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday in Helsinki, Finland.... The president’s changing statements on his perception of Russia’s intentions toward the United States underscore concerns that Mr. Trump does not believe American intelligence officials.”
The arrest earlier this week of Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights advocate accused of what the Times called “a secret Russian effort to influence American politics,” is just the latest evidence of what the intelligence community has long confirmed: that Russians did attempt to interfere with the U.S. electoral process, though it’s still unclear how much they were able to accomplish. (Coats’s predecessor, James Clapper, thinks Russia swung the election to Trump.)
Trump, meanwhile, can’t make up his mind. In his press conference with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump said he didn’t see why Russia would meddle in the 2016 election. He later claimed he misspoke, adding, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.” But then he added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”