Coats: Russia continuing to interfere

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that Russia is continuing to pursue its efforts to interfere in the US political system and said President Donald Trump has "specifically directed" the US intelligence community to make countering election interference a top priority.

Posted: Aug 3, 2018 9:45 AM
Updated: Aug 3, 2018 10:08 AM

The dramatic and unified comments Thursday from the nation's top national security officials to warn of a pervasive Russian effort to undermine US democracy also highlighted one of the most puzzling contradictions of the current presidency.

Often, President Donald Trump's own administration adopts rhetoric, positions and interpretations of facts that directly conflict with the views and stated beliefs of the President himself, raising doubts about the unity and coherence of White House strategy on key issues -- including addressing election interference, broader foreign policy and domestic issues such as immigration or avoiding a government shutdown.

This strange duality played out Thursday as the intelligence and foreign policy chieftains mustered in the White House Briefing Room to promise what FBI Director Christopher Wray said would be "fierce determination and focus" to thwart Russian meddling in the midterm elections.

But the absence of the President and his relentless past efforts to undermine assessments of Russian interference by his own intelligence agencies, plus his failure to publicly confront President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month, cast a huge cloud over the gathering.

It was not the first time that doubts have arisen about Trump's commitment to the policies of his own policy bureaucracy.

On key foreign and domestic issues, from Russia to NATO, to the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors to the origins of the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation, Trump has seemed to strike a course that flagrantly contradicts with positions of his own government often with his explosive tweets -- though he's also prone to do it in person on the campaign trail.

"In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin," Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania just hours after his top national security officials decried Russian attempts to influence US elections. "We discussed everything. ... We got along really well. By the way, that's a good thing, not a bad thing. Now we're being hindered by the Russian hoax -- it's a hoax, OK?"

From the Helsinki news conference to now

One source told CNN's Kaitlan Collins that the decision to roll out the heads of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Council and his Director of National Intelligence came from the President himself. The senior officials all praised Trump for his leadership.

But the President did not chose to show up and introduce them himself, depriving them of the kind of direct presidential endorsement that is crucial to the credibility of any major undertaking in Washington.

The President has also repeatedly undermined assessments by his own intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the election.

Just last month, he favored the Russian leader's denials of involvement in meddling over the joint assessments of US intelligence agencies.

As he stood side-by-side with Putin at a news conference, Trump said: "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia that interfered in the election, before later insisting amid a furious political backlash to his remark that he had meant to say "wouldn't."

Earlier this week, Trump called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end Mueller's special council investigation -- even though part of its mandate is investigating Russian election interference and its indictment of 12 Russian nationals has offered a stunning view of the sophistication of the election meddling effort.

So it was not surprising that Trump's key officials faced deep skepticism among reporters that their efforts had the full support of the President -- an impression that national security adviser John Bolton worked hard to dispel.

"I think the President has made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and that he expects them to do their jobs to their fullest ability and that he supports them fully," Bolton said.

The uncomfortable disconnect between the President and his top officials was also on display in an awkward moment involving Wray.

The FBI director was asked about Trump's calls for an end to the Mueller investigation because he thinks it is a "hoax" -- a word the President would use several times just hours later -- and a comment by press secretary Sarah Sanders Wednesday that the probe started by the bureau was rooted in "corruption and dishonesty."

Treading carefully, Wray tiptoed around the question, saying simply: "Well, I can assure the American people that the men and women of the FBI, starting from the director, all the way on down, are going to follow our oaths and do our jobs."

Russia not the only disconnect

Doubts about whether the President is fully committed to battling Russian election meddling reflect concerns about his motivations that are felt across Washington, in other policy areas.

His hostility to NATO and claims that the alliance is simply a vehicle for US allies to raid the US "piggy bank" directly conflicts with the position taken by the entire US foreign policy and military establishment.

Trump's recent warnings that he would embrace a government shutdown to get funding for his border wall seem to fly in the face of comments by his own officials and Republican leaders.

The contradictions inherent in Trump's presidency are perhaps best illustrated by the often conflicting strands of policy towards Russia itself. While the administration has imposed sanctions on Moscow, condemned the annexation of Crimea and allowed the sale of arms to Ukraine, this tough approach has often been undermined by the President.

Trump has called for Russia to be allowed added back to the G7 group of nations, even though it was kicked out over Crimea, and has even raised the possibility that the annexation could be recognized -- forcing his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into damage control mode.

"You basically have two different foreign policies in the United States, you have the foreign policy of the Trump administration and you have the foreign policy of President Trump himself," historian Max Boot told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Thursday.

"What the President says and does is ultimately more important that what people underneath him are doing," he continued. "They are not getting a unity of purpose and they are not getting a consistent message out because the President is completely at odds with his own government."

Administration officials dismiss such commentary, either denying there is a gap between the President and his subordinates or insisting that he alone sets administration policy.

Pompeo faced repeated variations of this question during a fiery Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last month.

"The President calls the ball. His statements are in fact policy," Pompeo said. "This President runs this government. His statements are in fact US policy."

But when the President's statements so often conflict with what most people understand US policy to be, it's no wonder the question keeps getting asked.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 245847

Reported Deaths: 5356
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16717168
Hinds15748310
Harrison12806188
Rankin10334204
Jackson9996172
Lee8666135
Madison7994158
Jones6112108
Forrest5826117
Lauderdale5672174
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Lamar471162
Washington4700122
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Panola357274
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Monroe3463101
Union334755
Warren334692
Marshall333264
Neshoba3310149
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Lincoln290185
Sunflower275868
Tate264759
Alcorn257850
Itawamba257058
Pike254876
Hancock246957
Prentiss240047
Scott238743
Copiah235649
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Tippah233845
Simpson230166
Leake226764
Coahoma219054
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Covington207171
Marion203371
Adams200065
Winston196260
George195937
Wayne193029
Attala190958
Newton185142
Chickasaw179943
Tishomingo179059
Holmes167467
Jasper163533
Clay155632
Stone138818
Tallahatchie137033
Clarke135160
Calhoun132021
Smith117322
Yalobusha112534
Walthall110536
Noxubee108922
Greene108229
Montgomery107134
Carroll102320
Lawrence99817
Perry98631
Amite95725
Webster90024
Claiborne84125
Tunica84021
Jefferson Davis82925
Humphreys80324
Benton79722
Kemper75620
Quitman6678
Franklin64613
Choctaw59412
Wilkinson57424
Jefferson52019
Sharkey42317
Issaquena1576
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 414583

Reported Deaths: 5945
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson60842887
Mobile29590538
Madison26466183
Tuscaloosa20537267
Montgomery18562304
Shelby18181112
Baldwin15841177
Lee1212097
Morgan12002112
Etowah11488142
Calhoun10863197
Marshall10048106
Houston8405123
Cullman792294
Limestone785073
Elmore7670101
DeKalb757282
St. Clair7417120
Lauderdale740282
Talladega6036108
Walker5834176
Jackson571937
Colbert522270
Blount521980
Autauga507555
Coffee431456
Dale388278
Franklin362145
Chilton332965
Covington325567
Russell318910
Escambia309842
Dallas297988
Chambers275769
Clarke272933
Tallapoosa2591107
Pike245829
Lawrence239345
Marion238649
Winston222535
Bibb211347
Geneva196331
Marengo196329
Pickens195331
Hale172542
Barbour169636
Butler166958
Fayette164026
Cherokee158330
Henry149219
Monroe143617
Randolph137635
Washington135426
Clay124446
Crenshaw117444
Lamar116819
Cleburne115123
Macon111935
Lowndes107935
Wilcox99921
Bullock97128
Perry95019
Conecuh92820
Sumter89126
Greene75123
Coosa59814
Choctaw50824
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