Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Wednesday that “more things will be done” to counter Russia’s efforts to undermine the US and steps are being taken to make sure the 2018 midterm elections are safe.
“The more we can expose what Russia is doing, the more our populace can understand that a lot of the stuff that they hear is quote ‘fake news’ — or it is part of a plan by Russia to undermine our values and drive a wedge between us and our allies,” Coats said.
“I think we are becoming more and more aware of the potential for Russia to continue to engage in any number of ways relative to our elections and a lot of steps are being taken,” he added.
Coats highlighted ongoing work by US intelligence agencies, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to “upgrade the election process” and increase awareness among the American public.
“We’re becoming more and more aware you just simply can’t trust the headline that you read or the fact that your elections are going to be safe,” he said.
Wednesday’s comments come after Coats was grilled by congressional lawmakers last month on the US response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
During his testimony, Coats said that it is “highly likely” that Russia will attempt to interfere in the 2018 US midterm elections. But he admitted “we just don’t know how much and when, where.”
“We have not seen evidence of a robust effort yet on the part of Russia but we know their malign activities continue,” he said at the time.
The top US spy also discussed his assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
“There seems to be two sides of Putin: the public side where he is graciously receiving heads of state, travels to different countries, meeting with different leaders — then there’s the side that through my career I’ve had some insights to, which is Putin as the KGB,” he said.
Coats added his assessment of Putin hasn’t changed and noted that the US should always engage the Russian leader with “eyes wide open.”
When Coats was asked what he thinks Putin’s objectives are regarding President Donald Trump, the top spy refused to share his assessment, only saying, “I have some thoughts on it but I haven’t echoed those thoughts publicly.” Then Coats reiterated his skepticism of Putin: “my view is anything you do with Putin you do with eyes wide open and with a high degree of skepticism.”
On Tuesday, Trump declared — once again — that “nobody has been tougher on Russia” — maintaining that he has come down hard on Russia for a series of transgressions.
But even his tough talk contained conciliatory remarks about Putin, a familiar posture for the President.
“Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said during a luncheon with three Baltic leaders. “Now maybe we will and maybe we won’t. Probably nobody’s been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”
A reporter asked if Putin is “a friend or a foe, to which the President said, “we’ll find out.”
“I’ll let you know,” Trump said. “There will be a time when I’ll let you know. You’re going to find out very quickly.”