US says Russia still carrying out ‘pervasive’ election meddling

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WASHINGTON, Aug 3, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – The US government on Thursday accused
Russia of carrying out a “pervasive” campaign to influence public opinion and
elections, in a warning just months before crucial legislative polls.

“We continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign from Russia to try to
weaken and divide the United States,” said Dan Coats, the director of
national intelligence.

A slew of top US officials including Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray
and Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen vowed to investigate and
prosecute those who were trying to sway US opinion or carrying out what Wray
described as “information warfare.”

“Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” Nielsen said in an unusually
stark warning.

“This is not just an election cycle threat,” Wray said. “Our adversaries
are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis,
whether it’s election season or not.”

Coats pointed the finger of blame at the Kremlin: “Russia has used numerous
ways in which they want to influence… through media, social media, through
bots, through actors that they hire, through proxies.”

The comments came in jarring contrast to the positions of Donald Trump, but
the two men dismissed suggestions the president — who has repeatedly denied
Russia moved to tilt the election in his favor — is not taking the issue
seriously.

Their message was undercut just hours later when Trump, at a rally in
Pennsylvania, again called the idea of Russian interference “a hoax.”

Trump has mulled easing sanctions against Moscow, held warm meetings with
Russian President Vladimir Putin and refused to criticize him over the
meddling in the 2016 election.

He has also repeatedly called for an end to the investigation into Moscow’s
meddling, which has seen more than 20 Russians indicted so far.

– ‘Opinion’, not order –

On Wednesday Trump told his attorney general to end the high-profile
investigation, led by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should
stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our
country any further,” Trump said.

Aides rushed to limit the damage, insisting he was not issuing an order as
Session’s boss.

“It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,” White House spokeswoman
Sarah Sanders told reporters, adding that Trump wants the probe to “come to
an end.”

Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign aided or abetted an
attempt by Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election, or tried to cover
up the conspiracy.

Asked whether the administration could be trusted to protect the country,
Wray responded: “I can assure the American people that the men and the women
of the FBI, from the director all the way on down, are going to follow our
oaths and do our jobs.”

Republican Senator John McCain was among those who called on the US
government to do more than warn the public.

“Our top intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that #Putin
continues to target our elections & sow chaos,” he tweeted. “Until he pays a
price, these attacks will grow.”

Congress is currently considering a sanctions bill designed to deter
Russia.

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