WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday made his most forceful comments to date about Russia’s campaign to disrupt U.S. elections, warning Moscow that his administration would counteract any attempts to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.
Though Trump has at times doubted that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he told reporters Tuesday that “certainly there was meddling” and that the U.S. government must be vigilant to prevent foreign intrusions in future elections.
“I think you have to be really watching very closely,” Trump said. “We won’t allow that to happen. We’re doing a very, very deep study, and we’re coming out with, I think, some very strong suggestions on the ’18 election. I think we’re going to do very well in the ’18 election, although historically those in the White House have a little bit of a dip.”
Asked at a news conference alongside Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven whether he worries about Russia interfering again, Trump said, “No, because we’ll counteract whatever they do.”
Trump’s comments signal a turnabout. He initially rejected the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election to help boost his campaign. During his first year as president, Trump held no Cabinet or high-level National Security Council meetings about combatting Russian interference. He and his administration have sought to roll back or simply did not enforce measures to hold Moscow accountable, such as sanctions passed overwhelmingly by Congress.
Last week, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, testified to Congress that the U.S. government is “probably not doing enough” to convince Russia to change its calculus or behavior ahead of this November’s midterm elections.
Rogers said that Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations. He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has clearly come to the conclusion that ‘there’s little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.’ ”
“If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Rogers added.
In his Tuesday comments, Trump insisted that his administration was at work trying to protect U.S. election systems from foreign interference, but he provided no details other than to advocate for paper-based voting systems.
“You have to be very vigilant and one of the things we’re learning is, it’s always good — it’s old fashioned, but it’s always good — to have a paper backup system of voting,” Trump said. “It’s called paper, not highly complex computers. Paper. A lot of states are doing that.”
Trump acknowledged that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but insisted that it did not influence the outcome and qualified his answer to suggest that there may have been other actors.
“The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever, but certainly there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals,” the president said.
Trump has long sought to play down any suggestion that Russia had hacked Democratic emails or did other things to try to help his campaign. In a September 2016 debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump famously said, “It could be Russia. But it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
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