Trump’s homeland security chief warns US ‘democracy in crosshairs’ ahead of midterm elections

US intelligence officials are working on securing electoral systems for the November 2018 midterms 

Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says US democracy 'is in the crosshairs'

Donald Trump’s chief of homeland security said US "democracy is in the crosshairs” as efforts to secure the 2018 midterm elections from interference comes under scrutiny.

Kirstjen Nielsen was speaking at the White House with other administration intelligence officials including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, General Paul Nakasone who is National Security Agency director, and FBI Director Christopher Wray to address protecting the November 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential election from foreign interference.

“The president has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation-state or other dangerous actor,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Mr Bolton sent a letter to Senate Democrats in response to criticism the White House has no real plan to prevent another cyber attack on state electoral systems.

He wrote that Mr Trump “has not and will not tolerate interference in America's system of representative government".

He said at the White House the president is "leading unprecedented action to punish Russia" but it was unclear if he meant the past interference in 2016 or if there is an indication of the same for the 2018 elections.

Mr Coats said the US intelligence community “continue[s] to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide”.

Paul Ryan announces he will not seek re-election in 2018 midterms

Mr Trump has had a publicly contentious relationship with the intelligence community since he took office nearly 18 months ago.

Recently, he came under heavy criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for not publicly condemning Russia for interfering in the 2016 US election while he was in Helsinki, Finland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After returning to Washington, Mr Trump claimed he “misspoke” during the press conference and “accepts” US intelligence reports that Moscow sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why... it wouldn’t be Russia,’” Mr Trump said in a rare take-back of his comments. He said it was an issue with the transcript and he used “sort of a double negative”.

As a result of the backlash, Mr Coats said at the White House the federal government is “throwing everything at” combating possible interference.

Ms Nielsen, Mr Nakasone, and Mr Wray met with leaders of top finance, energy and telecommunications companies for a cybersecurity summit in New York to discuss collaborative private-public security measures.

At the event, Ms Nielsen indicated the threat of a cyber-related attack now exceeds the danger of a physical attack against the US by a hostile foreign group.

However, Mr Wray said during the White House press conference that while US authorities “are not yet seeing the same kind of efforts to specifically target election infrastructure” as they did in 2016, they are seeing “malign influence operations…[and] information warfare” on social media in the form of propaganda.

The Senate has put forward a bipartisan package backed that seeks to increase federal assistance to state and local election officials with cybersecurity guidelines, data sharing, and appropriate security clearances.

However, many Senate Republicans and state governors are opposed to the idea of the federal government imposing regulations on states, even if it was for securing electoral systems.

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