WASHINGTON -- Leaders of the U.S. intelligence and security community told a briefing at the White House that Russia is continuing to use “pervasive methods” to exploit and intensify differences in U.S. society and that they remain concerned about U.S. election security.
"We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States," Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said on August 2.
“Our focus here today is to simply tell the American people we acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing, and we're doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.”
"The intelligence community continues to be concerned about the threats of upcoming U.S. elections, both the midterms and the presidential elections of 2020," Coats added.
Coats’ comments came during an unannounced joint briefing with other intelligence agency leaders, including FBI Director Christopher Wray and national security adviser John Bolton.
U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently played down reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and has repeatedly rejected conclusions of the intelligence community that the Kremlin’s efforts were done to benefit him during the election.
Most Democrats and even some Republicans have accused Trump and his administration of not doing enough to prevent Kremlin interference in the upcoming November midterm elections.
Bolton, however, praised Trump’s efforts, saying the president has directed a "vast, government-wide effort" to protect U.S. elections from interference, whether by Russia or any other country.
"We're throwing everything at it," Coats added. "The president has specifically directed us to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority."
The briefing came hours after an influential bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a package of measures designed to protect “American security from Kremlin aggression" amid concerns about the integrity of upcoming U.S. elections.
The bill introduced on August 2 represents at least the fourth piece of legislation circulating in Congress that would punish Russia for its alleged interference in U.S. elections, along with its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and other "malign" activities.
According to a statement issued by the senators, new sanctions in the legislation would target “political figures, oligarchs, and family members and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”