ASPEN, COLORADO—Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday declined to say the Russians wanted President Donald Trump to win the election—departing both from the assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community and the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
Nielsen made the comments at the Aspen National Security Forum in a question-and-answer session with NBC News’ Peter Alexander. Alexander first asked Nielsen about Russian meddling, and she said there was no question that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election. But when the NBC reporter pushed Nielsen on the motives behind that effort, she appeared to depart from the Intelligence Community’s view.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempt to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” she said. “I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides, whether it’s in Charlottesville, where we saw them on both sides, whether it’s in Syria, both sides. So I would not necessarily say that was the purpose.”
Later in the event, however, when pressed by reporters in the audience, Nielsen said she agreed with the Intelligence Community assessment. But she would not specifically say she agreed with it on the question of Putin’s motives.
In a joint press conference with Trump on July 16, Putin said he wanted Trump to win.
“Yes, I did,” the Russian leader asserted. “Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
The U.S. Intelligence Community was unequivocal in January 2017 about the motives behind Russia’s election meddling.
“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” their report read. “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 Senate intelligence committee, which oversees the Intelligence Community, released a report in May of 2018 supporting the assessment.
“The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” the committee found.