Kirstjen Nielsen Was Instructed Not to Talk to Trump About Russia Targeting the 2020 Elections

Trump considers any discussion of Russian election interference to be a challenge to the legitimacy of his presidency. 

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

When former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen began to prepare a plan to address potential Russian interference in the 2020 election, she was told by President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to refrain from discussing the issue in front of the president, according to a report from the New York Times.

A senior Trump administration official recalled to the Times that Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level,” because Trump considers any discussion of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to be a challenge to the legitimacy of his presidency. 

The DHS is the federal agency primarily responsible for election security, but despite Nielsen’s growing concerns about Russia’s continued involvement in the 2018 midterms, she abandoned her effort to organize a meeting with the White House in the hopes of creating a cohesive strategy for 2020 after pushback from Mulvaney. The issue therefore did not gain traction within the White House and has resulted in a lack of public awareness regarding the latest potential attempts of Russian election interference.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mulvaney said he does not recall ordering Nielsen or others to keep discussions regarding election security and potential Russian interference away from President Trump. “Unlike the Obama administration, who knew about Russian actions in 2014 and did nothing, the Trump administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections, and we’ve already taken many steps to prevent it in the future.” 

President Trump and those close to him have downplayed the effects of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. His son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, minimized the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election down to a ”couple of Facebook ads,” and said that “quite frankly, the whole thing is just a big distraction for the country,” during an interview in New York on Tuesday.

Last year, national security adviser John Bolton eliminated the cybersecurity coordinator position at the White House, a move that was widely interpreted as deprioritizing cybersecurity efforts despite threats from Russia and Iran.  

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate