Following a classified election security briefing for all House members, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she "hasn't seen" a conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia's intent in meddling in the 2016 election was to help Donald Trump win the presidency and to hurt Hillary Clinton. Nielsen was pressed about the January Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia's interference in the 2016 election, endorsed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
"I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion, that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I'm not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment," Nielsen told reporters following the briefing. Nielsen joined FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.
Nielsen added, "What we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides. So we've seen them encourage people go to a protest on one side; we've seen them simultaneously encourage people to go to that same protest on the other side. So I think what they're trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what's happening. It's an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American's behavior in what they're voting for."
Her comments contrast with the intelligence community's report that Putin and the Russian government "developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
"We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment," the report's conclusion found.
After Nielsen's remarks Tuesday, DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton released a statement saying, "The Secretary has previously reviewed the Intelligence Community's assessment and agrees with it – as she stated today and previously," adding, "Russian goals included undermining faith in the US democratic process and harming a candidate's electability and potential presidency. Importantly, they targeted both major political parties."
Houlton also defended Nielsen's comment that she didn't think she had seen the intelligence community's conclusion that the Russians' "specific intent was to help President Trump win."
"The intelligence assessment language is nuanced for a reason," Houlton wrote. "The Secretary agrees with that assessment. But the question asked by the reporter did not reflect the specific language in the assessment itself, so the Secretary correctly stated she had not seen the conclusion as characterized by the reporter."
The Senate Intelligence Committee endorsed the ICA's findings, writing, "Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions. After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton."
Nielsen maintains however that Russia did and will continue to try to manipulate Americans' perspective "on a variety of issues." The secretary told CBS News' Nancy Cordes that as part of DHS' efforts to respond to election interference in real time, DHS will deploy people during voting in the midterm elections and also work on being able to check results of elections afterward.
She told reporters that as of now, she has not seen clear evidence of Russia trying to meddle in any particular races in 2018.