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Homeland Security Chief Backtracks After Saying Russia Didn’t Try to Help Trump

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WASHINGTON — Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, said on Tuesday that she did not believe that Russia had tried to help President Trump during the 2016 election — putting her at odds with American intelligence agencies that found widespread meddling by Moscow.

Speaking to reporters after briefing Congress on voting security, Ms. Nielsen said she believed that Russia had tried to sow confusion on both sides of the political divide.

“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win,” she said. “I’m not aware of that.”

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Ms. Nielsen was on Capitol Hill with Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, in a closed-door meeting to brief lawmakers about efforts to protect American voting systems from hacking in the coming midterm elections.

Hours later, the Department of Homeland Security clarified Ms. Nielsen’s remarks to say that she “agrees with” the intelligence community’s assessment about the 2016 presidential election.

“Russian goals included undermining faith in the U.S. democratic process and harming a candidate’s electability and potential presidency,” Tyler Houlton, a department spokesman, said in a statement. “Importantly, they targeted both major political parties.”

A January 2017 report by the office of the director of national intelligence found that the Russian government favored Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign over that of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. The report concluded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally ordered an “influence campaign” to harm Mrs. Clinton and to “undermine public faith in the American democratic process.”

A statement last week by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee backed intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia sought to help swing the election to Mr. Trump.

After a 14-month review, “we see no reason to dispute the conclusions” of the intelligence agencies, said the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina.

“The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” said Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat.

Russian meddling in the election has been a sore spot for the Trump administration, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied that he benefited from Moscow’s interference.

Ms. Nielsen told members of Congress that the Department of Homeland Security would help states during the 2018 midterm elections, and work with state governments to check the voting results afterward. So far, she said, the department has not seen evidence that Russia is trying to meddle in any particular races this year.

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