White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney doesn’t recall keeping Russian meddling talk from Trump

WASHINGTON – A top White House official said Wednesday he doesn’t recall keeping discussions of election security from President Donald Trump and defended the administration’s effort to confront election meddling by Russia and others.

The response, from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, followed a report this week that former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to focus the administration’s attention on the problem but was told not to raise it in front of Trump. Nielsen resigned this month amid tensions with the White House. 

“I don’t recall anything along those lines happening in any meeting,” Mulvaney said. “But unlike the Obama administration, who knew about Russian actions in 2014 and did nothing, the Trump administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections.”

Russian interference in the 2016 election has once again moved to the fore after special counsel Robert Mueller’s report spelled out a sophisticated operation tied to the Kremlin to sow division in the U.S. through cyberattacks and social media campaigns. In his public statements, Trump and top aides have dismissed the impact of those efforts.

Nielsen became increasingly concerned about Russia’s activity during the 2018 midterm election, according to a New York Times report Wednesday. Mulvaney made it clear that Trump equated discussion of Russian activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory, according to the Times, and said the issue should be “kept below his level.” 

Administration officials have said they have taken steps to address the influence campaign and hacking that took place in 2016. Nielsen was one of several Trump officials who spoke to reporters at the White House last August about those efforts.  

Nielsen and others said at the time that the administration is working with state and local election officials to protect voting systems from attacks and to block Russia and others from engaging in them.

“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” Nielsen said.

Contributing: David Jackson and Michael Collins

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One on April 18, 2019, in Maryland. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

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