National security adviser John Bolton said in a letter to Senate Democrats Thursday that President Donald Trump is doing more to defend U.S. elections from foreign influence than any previous administration, and he offered to hold classified briefings for Congress on the White House’s efforts.
“President Trump has not and will not tolerate interference in America’s system of representative government,” Bolton wrote in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats. “He has directed a vast, government-wide effort to protect electoral procedures and processes while investigating, prosecuting, and holding accountable those who illegally attempt to interfere.”
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The letter comes after Trump faced intense criticism for appearing to question his own intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia is continuing to target the United States ahead of the November midterms. After senior intelligence officials across the government publicly underscored the threat, Trump and his senior advisers have sought to walk back the president’s public statements in a bid to project a unified and aggressive response.
Trump chaired a National Security Council meeting about election security Friday, and Senate Democrats, in a letter to Bolton last week, called on the Trump administration to hold Russia accountable for its actions, boost interagency coordination and provide support to local and state election officials.
Bolton’s letter said the Trump administration is doing all of those things, adding that the president has shown “a level of dedication and action with respect to this threat that far exceeds that of previous administrations.”
Trump’s critics are unlikely to be persuaded by Bolton’s missive. The president refused to publicly confront Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference with him in Helsinki, Finland, last month, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia interfering in U.S. elections.
In a rare acknowledgment of a misstep, Trump later walked back those comments, insisting that he had meant to say he didn’t see a reason why it “wouldn’t” be Russia that was interfering.
Trump also appeared to say “No” last month when asked by a reporter whether Russia was continuing to target U.S. elections. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump wasn’t answering the reporter’s question, even though the reporter said Trump looked at her and appeared to be responding.
“Our letter to Ambassador Bolton urged him and the Trump administration to fully implement the sanctions on Russia that Congress already passed, extradite the 12 Russian government officials indicted by Special Counsel Mueller, and commit to protecting diplomats and other US personnel — both past and present,” Schumer and the other senators said in a statement Thursday.
“Ambassador Bolton’s response does not address any of this and failed to urge Republicans in the Senate to reconsider their position blocking critical funding requested by 21 states to bolster election security ahead of the midterms.”
The criticism that Trump isn’t taking U.S. election security seriously has worried some in the White House, who have encouraged the president to take a tougher public stance on the issue.
Trump late last month took a harder line in an interview with CBS News, saying he holds Putin responsible for meddling and underscoring that he has confidence in the intelligence community.
Bolton, in his letter, said the Department of Homeland Security has “active partnerships” related to election security in 50 states, though the letter offers no details on what the partnerships entail. “Throughout the 2018 primaries, DHS has also readied itself to provide rapid response to potential cybersecurity incidents if Federal resources are requested,” he said.
Bolton also offered to brief Congress on the administration’s work.
“We do not wish to make the efforts of our adversaries any easier through injudicious public disclosures,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, as we have offered to do before, the Trump Administration remains willing to provide Congress classified briefings in secure facilities.”