ASPEN, Colo. — Russia is still working to “sow divisiveness” in the U.S. after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded it meddled in the 2016 presidential election, FBI Director Chris Wray said Wednesday.
In an interview at the Aspen Security Forum, Wray said his opinion that Russia interfered in the election hasn’t changed, and he called it “the most aggressive actor” trying to exert influence on the U.S.
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“He’s got his view. He’s expressed his view,” Wray said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I can tell you what my view is: The intelligence community’s assessment has not changed. My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”
Wray said Russia hasn’t yet targeted election infrastructure, but it is “aimed at sowing discord and divisiveness.”
“We haven’t yet seen an effort to target specific election infrastructure this time, but certainly other efforts — what I would call malign influence operations — are very active, and we could be just a moment away from it going to the next level.”
“To me,” he added, “it’s a threat that we need to take extremely seriously and respond to with fierce determination and focus.”
Asked by the forum’s moderator, NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, about claims that other nations in addition to Russia interfere in the U.S. political system, Wray said other nations try to influence public opinion and policies, but added “there’s no question that Russia has been by far the most aggressive actor.”
Wray’s comments come just hours after President Donald Trump said, in response to a question from a reporter at the White House, the Russian government is no longer trying to interfere in the U.S. political process.
Later, however, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to walk back the statement, saying in a press briefing that Trump had not said Russia isn’t attempting to undermine U.S. elections, but that he had simply said “no” to additional questions from reporters.
Pressed by Holt, Wray largely brushed off Trump’s repeated criticism of the FBI and the president’s contention that the bureau is biased against him. Instead, Wray said, he’s focused on “what do the people who experience us through our work think.”
“Would they prefer to not get criticized? Of course, we’d prefer not to get criticized. But at the end of the day, the criticism that we care about is the criticism … from people who actually would know us through our work,” Wray said. “The day juries don’t trust us, that I care about.”
Asked about Trump’s criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which the president has dismissed as a witch hunt, Wray defended the former FBI director and said he “is conducting a professional investigation.”