Mattis says Putin tried to "muck around" in November’s midterm elections

Defense Secretary James Mattis said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “tried to muck around” in November’s midterm elections, amid increasingly tense relations between the U.S. and Russia. Mattis spoke to Fox News’ Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday.

“No doubt the relationship has worsened,” Mattis said about the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. 

Mattis said that American intelligence is seeing “a continued effort” by Russia to interfere in American elections, after they meddled in the 2016 presidential election. However, Mattis said that he didn’t think the threat from Russia to American elections had increased.

“Continued efforts to democratic process must be defended. We’ll do whatever necessary to defend,” Mattis said.

President Trump canceled a scheduled meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in Argentina on Saturday, citing Russian aggression against Ukraine. According to press secretary Sarah Sanders, Mr. Trump did speak briefly with Putin on Friday, as he “had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.”

Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress on Thursday as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in 2016. Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Mattis also addressed the controversy over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi actors in Istanbul last month. Although the CIA has intelligence substantiating an assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing, Mattis said there was no “smoking gun.” Mattis said he had seen “all the intelligence we have.”

Mattis briefly discussed the death of President George H.W. Bush late Friday, calling him a “true patriot.”

“For all of us who need role models, he always put others first,” Mattis said.

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