(CNN)A handful of top US national security officials said Thursday that Russia is continuing to pursue its efforts to interfere in the US political system and said President Donald Trump has directed them to make countering election interference a top priority.
“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Thursday from the White House briefing room. “The President has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.”
The top officials’ presence in the White House briefing room amounted to the administration’s most significant effort to date to convey that a whole of government effort is being undertaken to combat Russian attacks on US democracy, which Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said is “in the crosshairs.”
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries who seek … to sow discord and undermine our way of life,” Nielsen said.
A Cabinet official who wasn’t present at Thursday’s briefing weighed in on efforts to counteract Russian meddling in the upcoming elections.
“We, the Department of Defense, are taking active measures to protect election security including monitoring our adversaries,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told a small group of reporters at the Pentagon.
Mattis’ comments were not directly related to the scorching criticism Republicans and Democrats have unleashed on the President following his refusal to back the US intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 election over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials.
Trump has since reaffirmed his confidence in the US intelligence assessment, but his absence from the briefing room on Thursday and his ongoing branding of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “witch…