Kirstjen Nielsen tried to ramp up efforts to combat Russian interference in the 2020 elections before she was forced out as Homeland Security secretary but was warned by the White House chief of staff not to tell the president, The New York Times reports.
Officials told the outlet that Nielsen, who was forced out at DHS earlier this month, was “increasingly concerned” with Russia’s “continued activity” ahead of and following the 2018 midterm elections. The activity included divisive social media tactics and hacking attempts to reroute online traffic and access power grids.
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney warned Nielsen not to bring up the efforts with Trump, according to the Times. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.”
Mulvaney “made it clear” to Nielsen that Trump “still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory,” The Times reported.
Nielsen eventually gave up on her attempt to organize a White House meeting of cabinet officials to coordinate a strategy to defend the 2020 elections. Instead she set up two of her own meetings with cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs.
“But the department was stymied by the White House’s refusal to discuss it,” an administration official said. “As a result, the official said, the government was failing to adequately inform Americans about continuing influence efforts.”
Nielsen warned Congress instead:
Though Nielsen was unable to get cabinet secretaries on board, she and other intelligence officials took their warnings to Congress.
In a Worldwide Threat Assessment compiled by intelligence agencies and delivered to Congress in January, the officials warned that “the threat landscape could look very different in 2020 and future elections.”
“Russia’s social media efforts will continue to focus on aggravating social and racial tensions, undermining trust in authorities and criticizing perceived anti-Russia politicians,” the report said. “Moscow may employ additional influence tool kits — such as spreading disinformation, conducting hack-and-leak operations or manipulating data — in a more targeted fashion to influence U.S. policy, actions and elections.”
Trump still pushing Russia hoax conspiracy theory:
Trump has refused to acknowledge that Russia hacked Democratic emails and waged social media campaigns to help his election. On Tuesday, Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner insisted that the investigation into Russia’s cyberattacks on the 2016 election, Clinton campaign, and voting systems in swingstate counties was worse than Russia’s cyberattacks.
“You look at what Russia did — you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it — and it’s a terrible thing,” Kushner said in a rare interview. “But I think the investigations, and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years, has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.”
But a former Trump SHS senior official Kevin Carroll warned The Times that Russia’s attempts to swing the election were such a success that they will undoubtedly ramp up those efforts in 2020.
“Russian intelligence’s 2016 covert actions to divide Americans by interfering in our election were so successful,” he said. “Putin will amplify them in 2020.”