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White House Briefing; Election Security. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired August 2, 2018 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WRAY: Technology companies have a front line responsibility to secure their own networks, products and platforms.
But we're doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors. So this year we've met with top social media companies and technology companies several times.
We've given them classified briefings, we've shared specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.
The reality is it's going to take all of us working together to hold the field, because this threat is not going away. As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.
This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously and to tackle and respond to with fierce determination and focus. And together with our partners, both those here and some of the other partners we've talked about, I'm confident that we can protect the integrity of our democratic institutions and maintain public confidence in our electoral process.
NAKASONE: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us this afternoon. I appreciate the leadership and support from the president, the secretary of Defense, the director of National Intelligence.
I believe our mandate is clear -- as part of its mission to defend the nation, the Department of Defense is providing intelligence, information support and technical expertise to the Department of Homeland Security for use by state and local officials to prevent foreign interference in our elections.
This is a vital mission for us and the nation. It draws on our deep experience and expertise in continuing work in this area. Our support has been ongoing and will continue through the midterm elections. We are also providing intelligence and information leads to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on foreign adversaries who are attempting to sow discord and division within the American public. This information is shared with appropriate entities to alert them of malicious cyber actors. U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency are tracking a wide range of foreign cyber adversaries and are prepared to conduct operations against those actors attempting to undermine our nation's midterm elections.
These type of operations are sensitive and require confidentiality for success. I won't discuss the specifics, except to state that our forces are well trained, ready and very capable. I have complete confidence in the forces under my command.
We will work in conjunction with other elements of our government to ensure we bring the full power of our nation to bear on any foreign power that attempts to interfere in our democratic processes. I'll turn it back over to the moderator.
SANDERS: Thank you. As I said at the beginning, if we could stay on topic and also if you could when asking a question direct it to a specific person. And as always, after we finish this part of the briefing, I'll be back to answer question on news of the day. John (ph), go ahead.
QUESTION: Director Coats, if I could direct a question to you?
QUESTION: Let me take you back if I could to Helsinki. The president seemed to indicate that he may believe Vladimir Putin when he says he doesn't -- didn't have any influence in the 2016 election, but what is your belief about the Russian government involved in meddling in 2016?
And if, as you say, Russia continues to try to influence our electoral process, does that mean that nothing much came of the meeting of Putin, or is it other than government actors that are involved here?
COATS: Well in relationship to the 2016 election, of course none of us were in office at that particular time, but both the president, the vice president think everyone on this stage has acknowledged the fact that the ICA was a direct assessment of what happened in 2016.
We have subsequently made the determination to make this a top priority so that it doesn't happen again, and we're throwing everything at it and we -- we will have and will be discussing that here today. Relative to my discussions with the president on whatever issue it is, those -- I do not go public with that.
I don't think that's the right, the proper thing to do. So our focus here today is simply to tell the American people we acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing and we are doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.
In addition to that, it goes beyond the elections, it goes to Russia's intent to undermine our democratic values, drive a wedge between our allies and do a number of other nefarious things, and we are looking at that also. But today we are here to talk about the elections coming up and what we're doing ensuring the American people are having legitimate...
QUESTION: If I -- if I could just clarify -- because both you and Director Wray said that Russia continues to try to meddle in -- in our elections...
COATS: They do.
QUESTION: ... and -- and influence voters. If -- are we talking about rogue Russian individuals, or are we talking about the Kremlin?
COATS: I'm thinking you can -- both, and even add to that. Russia has used numerous ways in which they want to influence, through media, social media, through bots, through actors that they hire, through proxies -- all of the above, and potentially more. I can't go into any deep, deep details of what is classified, but it is pervasive, it is ongoing with the intent to achieve their intent, and that is, drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question for Director Wray. Thank you. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted more than 20 Russian officials based on work by the FBI for meddling in the 2016 elections. Now, the president has tweeted that that investigation by this Special Counsel is a hoax, and should be shut down. I know you've said that you don't believe it is a hoax. But why would the American people believe what you're saying about the FBI, when the president says that the investigation by the Special Counsel is a hoax, and when the press secretary yesterday said that there was a lot of corruption within the FBI. Do you have any response to those things coming from the White House?
WRAY: Well, I can assure the American people that the men and women of the FBI, starting from the director, all the way on down, are going to follow our oaths and do our jobs.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. I have a question for Director -- Director Coats. Director Coats, how would you characterize the current -- the Russian efforts to meddle in the 2018 election, relative to 2016? Is it more intense? Do you see those efforts focused on a particular party? And in general, is the pace of those operations in any way relative to 2014, 2012, or is it more intense?
COATS: Relative to what we have seen for the midterm elections, it is not the kind of robust campaign that we assessed in the 2016 election. We know that through decades, Russia has tried to use its propaganda and methods to sow discord in America. However, they stepped up their game big time in 2016. We have not seen that kind of robust effort from them so far. As I mentioned publicly some time -- just a few weeks ago, we're only one keyboard click away from finding out something that we don't -- haven't seen up to this particular point in time, but right now, we have not seen that. QUESTION: To follow up, sir -- to follow up, sir, do you see it directed to any particular party as current 2018 efforts? Is there any particular party that is benefiting from current 2018 Russian efforts?
COATS: What we see is the Russians are looking for every opportunity, regardless of party, regardless of -- of -- whether or not it applies to the election, to continue their pervasive efforts undermine our fundamental values.
SANDERS: Jeff (ph), go ahead.
QUESTION: Also for Director Coats, the runup to the Helsinki...
COATS: I'll try to get (inaudible).
QUESTION: Well, perhaps Ambassador Bolton can weigh in on this, as well. But in the -- in the runup to the Helsinki Summit, U.S. officials, ambassador -- ambassadors to NATO, ambassadors to Russia said that the president would raise the issue of malign activity with President Putin. But he didn't discuss that, at least at the press conference. You're saying today that the president has directed you to make the issue of election meddling a priority. How do you explain the disconnect between what you are saying, his advisors, and what the president has said about this issue?
COATS: I'm not in a position to either understand fully, or talk about what happened at Helsinki. I'll turn it over to the national security director here to -- to address that question.
NAKASONE: Yes, the -- the issue was discussed and in fact President Putin said -- I thought at the press conference, but certainly in the expanded bilateral meeting when the two leaders got together with their -- their senior advisors, President Putin said the first issue that President Trump raised was election meddling.
QUESTION: I guess the question is could -- at the press conference, the president didn't highlight any of the maligned activities that you have, and that his advisors have. And so should Americans believe that he is listening to you -- your advice, or that he is going his own way when he's having meetings like he did with the president of Russia?
NAKASONE: I -- I think the president has made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and that he expects them to do their jobs to their fullest ability and that he supports them fully.
SANDERS: Blake (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. I believe this is either for Director Coats or Director Wray, I'll -- I'll let either of you choose. Since social media was brought up, there is a recent case with Facebook having just shut down some 32 accounts believed potentially to be from Russia. Can you give us an idea, is that a large amount, is that a just kind of the tip of the iceberg? And then generally speaking, with these social media companies -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram -- how much have they progressed or have they not progressed in what you would like to see in terms of progression from 2016 in identifying the threat?
WRAY: So first, I'm not going to discuss any specific ongoing investigation, but what I will tell you is that activity of the sort you're describing is a good reflection of the fact that we have to have a public-private partnership in this particular threat.
And that's why when I talked about our three pillars of the FBI's Foreign Influence Task Force, we're spending so much of our effort trying to engage with the social media and technology companies, because there is a very important role for them to play in terms of monitoring and in effect, policing their own platforms.
So what we have to have happen, which is -- started happening in a way that's much more robust -- much more robust than in -- before the 2016 election, we're sharing with them actionable intelligence in a way that wasn't happening before.
But in turn, we learn things from them and we can use that to have our investigations be more effective. So I do think progress is being made, we got to keep getting better at it, we got to keep staying on the balls of our feet, but I think that's what we're seeing.
SANDERS: Jennifer (ph), Connor (ph)?
QUESTION: Ambassador Bolton, in your letter you talk about ordering the closure of the consulates in San Francisco and Seattle, these are two tech hubs. What happened there that led you to do that?
BOLTON: Well I'm not going to discuss the background of that decision, which actually occurred before I -- I came to this job, but the purpose of expelling the Russian individuals that -- that were expelled was to send a signal to Russia that their conduct in conducting a chemical weapons attack in Great Britain was unacceptable.
And this was a mode of retaliation designed to show that we will not tolerate that kind of activity on the territory of the United States or any of our allies, and we expelled a lot of the people who we think had knowledge of it or had other activities in the United States that we considered unacceptable.
SANDERS: Connor (ph)?
QUESTION: This I guess would be for maybe the -- the Secretary Nielsen or -- or Mr. Wray. The -- these meddling campaigns seem to fall into two broad categories, the sort of information campaigns, which challenge the information upon which Americans use to make their determinations, and then the more physical interferences into the machinery of voting, the tabulation of voting, the voting roles, the -- the machinery that -- that the states run.
Can you guys describe what you're seeing specifically in the run up to this coming election in both of those areas? Do you -- do you worry more about one than the other? Do you have -- are there specific threats that maybe you can't even talk about but that you can say there have been specific threats in both of those categories so that -- and -- and how should -- how should Americans process that where we're going to go to the polls in a few months?
Do -- should people be confident that when they pull the lever, they're -- they're secure?
WRAY: Well I think -- I think we've said this fairly consistently that in the context of 2018, we are not yet seeing the same kind of efforts to specifically target election infrastructure, you know, voter registration databases in particular.
What we are seeing are the malign influence operations in effect, information warfare that we've talked about and that didn't really -- that's a 24-7 365 days a year phenomenon that doesn't turn necessarily on whether or not we're in the middle of an election season or not.
But as Director Coates said, any -- any moment is just a moment before, you know, the -- the dial can be turned up one. Much as we saw in 2016, again, not in terms of effecting the vote count, but in terms of potential penetration of voter registration databases or something like that.
And that, in turn, can be a vehicle for them to try to sew discord or undermine confidence. And we have to make sure we're pushing back on it, which is what we're doing.
NIELSEN: So just -- so just to add, so the way that we're splitting it, we're all partnering together, but your question just shows a little bit of the division of labor. So DHS is focused on the election infrastructure in support of state and locals that have the primary responsibility, and then we support the FBI's efforts in countering foreign influence.
But with respect to the infrastructure piece, we have seen a willingness and a capability on the part of the Russians, and so we are working very closely with state and locals to ensure that we're prepared this time around.
Part of that is encouraging states to have audit ability, so to get to that one part of your question, whatever happens we want to assure Americans the day after that their vote was counted and it was counted correctly.
So regardless of what might happen, we will be prepared, but we also want to make sure we have that audit ability.
QUESTION: Secretary Nielsen, would a government shut down on October 1 effect any of these efforts?
NIELSEN: Election -- so what we have done as you know is in 2017, DHS designated election infrastructure, critical infrastructure subsector. So we prioritize efforts so any state that requests a vulnerability assessment, a hunt team, best practices, hygiene scans, et cetera.
We will continue to prioritize within our budget. So thank you.
SANDERS: We'll take one last question.
QUESTION: This is for the director and for the general. Can you unpack a little bit more about what you said there? You said there was -- a question for the director and a question for the general separately.
Can you give us a better sense of who specifically has been targeted? We know at least two senators have said that they've been targeted by hacking or by people impersonating government officials.
Is it members of the Senate, members of the House, is it Democratic and Republican campaigns, and then a separate question for the general.
COATS: We follow a procedure that's been agreed on some time ago in terms of when we receive this type of information, it is processed through the leadership of the respective House chamber, Senate chamber.
And then disseminated down to the individual member who was -- who was targeted. So we have taken that action, that is in place, but I'm not in a position right now to release those names.
QUESTION: Would you support legislation imposing sanctions on Russia now that you're saying they have in fact interfered or attempted to?
COATS: Well we already have those -- some of the -- a lot of sanctions in place and I -- I would support any efforts that we can collectively put together to send the signal to Russia that there's a cost -- a price to pay for what they're doing, and if we want to have any kind of relationship whatsoever in dealing with things of mutual interest, the Russians have to stop doing what they're doing or it's simply not going to happen.
QUESTION: And general, have you been -- have you been...
QUESTION: General, have you been ordered at all to authorize to conduct any offensive cyber-operations in response to this?
NAKASONE: So my guidance and the direction from the present Secretary of Defense is very clear, we're not going to accept meddling in the elections. And it's very unambiguous.
QUESTION: Will there be additional (ph) sanctions for the 13 Russians that were indicted?
SANDERS: Thank you all very much. We really appreciate you being here today.
We'll take in a couple more questions on other topics today.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask about the president's tweet on North Korea. He was addressing Kim Jong-un, and he said, quote, "I look forward to seeing you soon." Are there plans in place right now? Any discussion about a second meeting? And also he said he received a letter from Kim; what did the letter say, and did it address any of the reports that appear to show that Kim is not actually working towards denuclearization?
SANDERS: That's a lot of questions rolled into one. I'll try to address each one, and if I miss something, I'm sure you guys will point it out. He did receive a letter; I believe he received it on August 1st. There is not a second meeting that is currently locked in or finalized, certainly open to that discussion, but there isn't meeting planned. We have responded to Chairman Kim's letter, the president has, and that letter will be delivered shortly. Beyond that, I can't get into any further details.
QUESTION: ...addressed the concerns of (inaudible)...
SANDERS: I can say that the letters addressed their commitment from their joint statement in -- that was made at the Singapore Summit, and they're going to continue working together towards complete and total denuclearization.
QUESTION: ...address that?
SANDERS: Again, I can't go any further than what I just told you.
QUESTION: Ivanka Trump made two statements this morning at odds with the positions of her father. She said the media are not the enemy of the people and also called family separation at the border a low point. What does the president think of her statements?
SANDERS: Certainly the -- the president himself has stated that he doesn't like the idea of family separation. I don't think anybody does. We also don't like the idea of open borders. We don't like the idea of allowing people into our country if we don't know who they are, where they're going, and why they're coming. The president wants to secure our borders, which is why he has asked Congress to fix the law.
We haven't been unclear about what our position is here. We want to secure the borders. We want to change the law. It's Congress's job to do that. We'd like them, particularly Democrats, to stop playing political games and step up and do their jobs.
QUESTION: And on the press being the (ph) enemy of the people or not?
SANDERS: The president's rightfully frustrated; 90 percent of the coverage on him is negative despite the fact that the economy is booming, ISIS is on the run, and American leadership is being reasserted around the world. Just this week the media refused to cover his remarks in Florida highlighting efforts on workforce development. In fact, the poller (ph) for the press said that there was no news made despite the fact that the governor of the state joined with dozens of businesses across the state of Florida to announce thousands of new jobs.
That may not be news in Washington, D.C., but I can assure you that it's news in the state of Florida, that people that didn't have a job before this president took office had better opportunity and the opportunity to have a job moving forward. That's actually real news and something that people in the state of Florida and across this country appreciate, and that was totally ignored.
SANDERS: Not only that, before a journalist on CNN claimed that the president hadn't taken questions in over a week, despite the fact that same journalist did a live shot from the 2 and 2 (ph) press conference that the president had with the Prime Minister of Italy just moments after making that accusation. With this sort of misinformation and lack of interest that's so pervasive in the media, it's completely understandable for the president to be frustrated.
John Decker (ph)? Sorry, John Decker (ph), go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the conference call that took place yesterday involving U.S.-China trade relations. Is there a timeline as to when or if the President may pull the trigger and impose harsher sanctions on China, harsher tariffs on China?
SANDERS: We're continuing to monitor that process, and when we have an announcement on that, we'll certainly let you know. John (ph)?
QUESTION: Is the goal at the end of the day ...
SANDERS: John (ph)?
QUESTION: Really quickly, is the goal at the end of the day to get China back to the negotiating table, the way they were at the negotiating table with American trade officials just a few months ago?
SANDERS: The goal at the end of the day is to end the unfair trade practices that China has engaged in for decades, and that the administrations before this president have ignored. Jonathan (ph)?
QUESTION: Returning to the question of -- of election security, the -- the president has said other people also may have been involved in the efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. Did any of the people that we saw up here -- has there been any evidence from the intelligence community that there were others besides Russia that were involved in election meddling?
SANDERS: Certainly we know there are others, and we know that there are others that are considering making attempts in 2018, which is what our focus is moving forward. As you know, none of us were here in 2016, but we're here now, and the individuals that were standing up here just moments ago, the focus and the full weight of the government asked by the President and directed by the president is to protect the election infrastructure in 2018, and moving forward that's exactly what we're going to do.
QUESTION: Who are the others who were involved in -- in -- in interference in 2016?
SANDERS: I -- I -- I can't get into specific details, but our intelligence shows that there are a number of others that are looking at and considering engaging, particularly in 2018.
QUESTION: And -- and he also said that they're trying to help Democrats. He suggested that the Russians would be trying to help Democrats in the midterm elections. Has there been any evidence whatsoever that Democrats are -- that Russians are trying to help Democrats in the 2018 elections?
SANDERS: Well I -- I think you can see just from what took place over in the -- the Facebook. I know Director Wray wasn't at liberty to speak about the specifics, and I can't get into a lot of them, but I can tell you that a number of them were anti-President Trump, and that certainly isn't helping Republicans. John (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah -- Sarah?
SANDERS: Sorry? Oh I'm sorry, I did, I called on you before, sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, I wanted you to -- to respond if you could to the CAFE standards rule that was proposed by the administration today, the 20 States Attorney General that have a right said that they will sue this administration.
This is part of their complaint, they say freezing or weakening these standards put the health of our children, seniors in communities at risk. It also increases the rising cost of climate change for our states. The administration's response would be what?
SANDERS: That the reporting that we're reversing Obama era fuel efficiency standards and pre-empting the tougher California standards is simply false. What the EPA released yesterday was a notice of proposed rule-making, not a final rule.
The notice lays out a series of options for how to go forward with CAFE standards, and the notice asked for comments on the range of options. We're simply opening it up for a comment period, and we'll make a final decision at the end of that.
QUESTION: ... from 10 to 25 percent?
SANDERS: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: On the move on -- on tariffs, potentially from 10 to 25 percent, what was the thing that made the president say this is why -- why I want to do it?
SANDERS: Again, the president's been clear, he's going to hold China's feet to the fire and he wants to stop the unfair trade practices. Emeril (ph)?
Emeril (ph), go ahead -- sorry, I'll come to you next, Jim.
QUESTION: OK, thank you.
SANDERS: Emeril (ph), go ahead.
QUESTION: Going back to election security, the other night in Tampa the President mentioned voter ID's for elections. Going forward with election security, is the administration looking at proposing a voter ID log or -- ID law or pushing a voter ID law?
SANDERS: I -- I'm sorry, what was the last part of your question? There was a lot of feedback, so (inaudible) here in the (inaudible)
QUESTION: Sorry. If the administration is part of this -- of this election security push also looking to do a voter I.D. law, to try to push something like that through Congress?
SANDERS: Look, we're looking to do everything we can at this point to protect the 2018 elections, the integrity of those elections, and moving on beyond 2018 to 2020 and after. We haven't made a final decision, but certainly, looking at every option available to us. It's not unreasonable. If I return something to a department store, if I have to cash a check, I have to show my I.D. in order to do those things. It's not outrageous that if you're going to vote to decide on who the leaders of the local communities, your state and the federal government are going to be, that you would be asked to show an I.D.
QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on a -- on Sarah's question from NPR. She asked you about Ivanka Trump's statement the press is not the enemy of the people, and she asked you whether or not the press is the enemy of the people. You read off a laundry list of your concerns about the press, and then things that you feel like are misreported. But you did not say that the press is not the enemy of the people, and I -- I -- I think it would be a good thing if you were to say right here at this briefing that the press, the people who are gathered in this room right now, are doing their jobs every day, asking questions of officials like the ones you brought forward earlier, are not the enemy of the people. I -- I -- I think we -- we deserve that.
SANDERS: I think the president has made his position known. I also think it's ironic...
QUESTION: (inaudible) you mind telling us -- Sarah, if you don't -- OK, well, if...
SANDERS: I'm -- I'm trying to answer your question. I -- I've politely waited, and I even called on you, despite the fact that you interrupted me while calling on your colleague. I said it's ironic...
QUESTION: Well, you (inaudible) which is why I interrupted.
SANDERS: I'm trying...
QUESTION: But if you -- if you finish -- if you would not mind letting me have a follow-up, that would be fine, but...
SANDERS: It's ironic, Jim (ph), that not only you and the media attack the president for his rhetoric, when they frequently lower the level of conversation in this country. Repeatedly -- repeatedly, the media resorts to personal attacks without any content other than to incite anger.
The media has attacked me personally on a number of occasions, including your own network; said I should be harassed as a life sentence, that I should be choked. ICE officials are not welcomed in their place of worship, and personal information is shared on the Internet. When I was hosted by the Correspondent's Association, of which almost all of you are members of, you brought a comedian up to attack my appearance, and call me a traitor to my own gender.
SANDERS: In fact, as I know, as far as I know, I'm the first press secretary in the history of the United States that's required Secret Service protection.
QUESTION: No, that's not what I said. People (inaudible)
SANDERS: The media continues to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president and everyone in this administration. And certainly, we have a role to play, but the media has a role to play for the discourse in this country, as well.
QUESTION: And -- and Sarah, if you don't mind, if I -- if -- hold on.
If I may follow up -- if I may follow up -- excuse me. You did not say in the course of those remarks that you just made, that the press is not the enemy of the people. Are we to take it, from what you just said -- we all get put through the wringer. We all get put in the meat grinder in this town, and you're no exception, and I'm sorry that that happened to you. I wish that that -- that had not happened. But for -- for the sake of this -- this room, the people who are in this room, this democracy, this country, all the people around the world are watching what you're saying, Sarah, and the White House for the United States of America, the president of the United States should not refer to us is the enemy of the people. His own daughter acknowledges that, and all I'm asking you to do, Sarah, is to acknowledge that right now and right here.
SANDERS: I -- I -- I appreciate your passion. I share it. I've addressed this question. I've addressed my personal feelings. I'm here to speak on behalf of the president. He's made his comments clear.
QUESTION: On another matter, the National Archives told the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman today that they probably aren't going to be able to finish up their document collection regarding Brett Kavanaugh until October. That's obviously later than the timetable, and what you guys and Senate Republicans are hoping for. Any comment on that, or any potential assistance that the White House can give the archives in accelerating that?
SANDERS: Certainly we want to be as helpful as possible in turning over as many documents. Several senators have stated there will be up to and over a million pages of documents to review, including over 300 judicial opinions.
His documents as staff secretary tell us the least about his judicial thinking than the million pages from his other work, including his judicial opinions. We want a thorough evaluation. We've asked for that. But we don't want a taxpayer-funded fishing expedition. We want to continue to be cooperative...
SANDERS: ... and that's exactly what we're going to do.
SANDERS: I'll take a last question.
QUESTION: How about one more for the right side?