Vice President Pence on Wednesday said the U.S. intelligence community universally concluded that Russia did not have an effect on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, despite the fact that officials have made no such judgment.
“Irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election,” Pence said at an event hosted by Axios, a claim he later repeated.
Pence went on to acknowledge that Russia did attempt to meddle in the election and said that the administration is taking steps to counter the threat.
“It doesn’t mean there weren’t efforts, and we do know there were,” Pence said. “There were efforts by Russia, and likely by other countries, to involve or influence American elections and we take that very seriously.”
The U.S. intelligence community has not reached a conclusion on whether Russian meddling actually had any bearing on the election’s outcome.
“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russia activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” an unclassified assessment released last January states. “The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”
U.S. officials have accused Russia of using cyberattacks and disinformation during the 2016 campaign to undermine American democracy, damage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help President Trump.
Homeland Security officials have also disclosed that Russia targeted election systems in 21 states, though they have maintained that there is no evidence any vote counts were changed.
Top U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo told lawmakers Tuesday that they expect Russia to attempt to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.
On Wednesday, Pence did not directly answer whether he agreed with that judgment but insisted the administration was taking steps to ensure that state election systems and U.S. infrastructure are guarded against future foreign interference efforts.
“We have discussed plans going forward to ensure meddling in our elections by Russians or other powers around the world will be rebutted and that we’ll continue to develop the kind of technologies that ensure and maintain the integrity of our electoral system,” he said of his briefings with U.S. intelligence officials.
Pence went on to reiterate that Russia’s actions in 2016 had “no impact” on the election’s result.
“Let me say again, the encouraging word is that it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence community that there was no impact on the outcome of the 2016 election from any foreign meddling in our elections,” Pence said, “I think that bears repeating.”
Pompeo made a similar remark last October, saying at a conference in Washington, “The intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”
The CIA later issued a statement appearing to walk back his remarks.
“The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed,” an agency spokesman told The Washington Post at the time, adding, “the director did not intend to suggest that it had.”
Trump himself has at times cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment and has weathered criticism for not doing enough to penalize or call Russia out for its behavior. He has also described allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as a “hoax.”