NYT: Nielsen urged not to bring up Russian meddling to Trump

Attempted Russian interference in US public affairs has continued as Department of Homeland Security officials and senior leaders have alerted the White House about the risks ahead of the 2020 presidential election — but it was “like pulling teeth” to get the White House to pay attention, a US government official told CNN Wednesday.

One reason for the difficulty, according to the official, is that “in general, senior White House staff felt it wasn’t a good idea to bring up issues related to Russia in front of the President.”

Officials have “spent months and months trying to sound alarm at the White House about the need to take foreign interference more seriously and elevate the issue,” the official said, adding that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats shared those views and feels the administration “was not being forward-leaning enough in notifying Congress and the American people.”

The official noted that there have been one or two principals’ meetings before the midterm elections, as well as a press conference in which national security adviser John Bolton, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone warned the public of election interference.

The government official said DHS and other agencies made repeated requests to set up more Cabinet-level meetings on the subject and Bolton’s National Security Council rebuffed the requests.

“They (DHS) kept ‘getting the Heisman’ from Bolton and company,” the official said.

The bigger concern, the official said, was post-2018 midterms and the need to sit down and figure out how to coordinate a better whole-of-government response, “to get everyone out of their silos. But it was like pulling teeth to get the White House to focus the attention needed on this.”

Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the NSC, told CNN that “any suggestion that this administration is giving less than a full-throated effort to secure America’s elections is patently false.”

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.

In a statement to CNN, Coats said the idea that the Trump administration doesn’t take election security seriously is inaccurate.

“The implication by anonymous sources that the Administration has not or is not taking this issue seriously is false and minimizes the work that continues to be advanced by countless individuals to ensure the integrity of our electoral process,” Coats said. “Moreover, these claims may undermine the public’s confidence in our work, thereby supporting our adversaries’ agenda.”

He added that the White House was always open to him briefing Trump on election security.

“I know, because I specifically asked the President for certain capabilities on behalf of the Intelligence Community and he quickly agreed and also encouraged several of us to speak to the American people,” Coats said. “That support has not changed and the inter-agency continues to work tirelessly to prepare for the 2020 elections. Election security is and will continue to be one of our nation’s highest national security priorities.”

Raises concerns over future readiness

The lack of urgency by the White House and the desire to keep the issue away from Trump — which was