Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday said Russia’s cyberattacks on election infrastructure were meant to “cause chaos” for both political parties.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempt to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” Nielson said during the Aspen Security Forum when asked whether Russia attempted to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 election.
“What we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides,” she added.
Nielsen was forced to clarify her comments hours later after media outlets, including HuffPost, interpreted her remarks as a rejection of the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia had tried to swing the election in Trump’s favor through a massive misinformation campaign.
“I agree with the intel’s community assessment. Full stop,” Nielsen said in a statement. “What we need to do at DHS is take the information they provide us and make sure the states and that they can prepare and prevent any Russian interference in our election systems.”
A DHS spokeswoman told HuffPost that Nielsen’s comments at the Aspen Security Forum were specifically addressing the findings from DHS ― not from the U.S. intelligence community.
Nielsen came under fire in May after making a similar statement during a press briefing at the White House.
“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win,” Nielsen told reporters at the time. “I’m not aware of that.”
Hours later, DHS clarified her comments to say that she “agrees with” U.S. intelligence agencies’ 2016 findings.
Nielsen’s remarks come amid backlash that has engulfed Trump since he said at the Helsinki summit that he accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of election interference over U.S. intelligence findings. Trump, in attempting to calm the uproar, appeared to undermine U.S. intelligence agencies further.
Trump claimed he misspoke in Helsinki on Monday when he said he didn’t “see any reason why [Russia] would” be responsible for election interference and cyberattacks.
“I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’” Trump told reporters Tuesday. He said he accepted U.S. intelligence findings of Russian interference, but added it “could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
On Wednesday, Trump appeared to reject U.S. intelligence once again, telling a reporter that Russia was no longer targeting the U.S. White House press secretary Sarah Hucakbee Sanders later said Trump had been saying “no” to taking more questions ― not “no” in response to a question about Russia.
Nielsen created more buzz Thursday when asked about a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that left one woman dead after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into her.
Trump said at the time that there were “fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, which drew intense backlash from lawmakers from both parties. Nielsen appeared to double down Thursday on Trump’s initial comments.
“It’s not that one side was right and one side was wrong,” Nielsen said. “Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate.”
This story has been updated to include additional comments from Nielsen.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Nielsen generally doesn’t believe Russia tried to help Trump win the 2016 election. In fact, Nielsen had said she hasn’t “seen evidence” to suggest Russia specifically hacked election infrastructure with that intention. She later clarified that she agrees with the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment, which found Russia implemented a massive misinformation campaign in an attempt to help Trump.