President-elect Donald Trump said he had a “constructive” meeting with intelligence officials on Friday, but still had questions about assertions that Russia hacked Democrats during last year’s election in order to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Claiming that Russia, China and other countries and organizations are always launching cyber-attacks against the United States — “including the Democratic National Committee” — Trump said in a written statement that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
He added: “There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.”
The intelligence community outlined its findings in a declassified report issued a few hours after the Trump briefing.
Among them: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
A statement from the office of the Director of National Intelligence said that investigators “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election, and DHS assesses that the types of systems the Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”
While criticizing aspects of the Russia investigation just hours before a special briefing, Trump said in his statement, “I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this (intelligence) community to our great nation.”
Saying all Americans need to “aggressively combat and stop cyber-attacks,” Trump said that as president he would appoint a team to develop a new defense plan.
“The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm,” the president-elect added. “Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”
Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, said on Twitter: “Why. Can’t. He. Just. Say. He. Accepts. The. Conclusion. Of. The. Intel. Agencies? It is seriously weird he won’t just admit Russia did it.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who also attended the briefing, called it “a constructive and respectful dialogue.” He said Trump has pledged “aggressive action in the early days of our new administration to combat cyber attacks and protect the security of the American people from this type of intrusion in the future.”
Before the meeting, Trump continued to attack what he called an over-emphasis on claims that the Russians hacked Democratic Party officials in an election operation authorized by Putin.
“China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names,” Trump told The New York Times. “How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt.”
Before his high-profile briefing at Trump Tower, the president-elect also announced he has asked Congress to investigate what he believes to be the leak of a secret intelligence report on the Russians to the news media. He tweeted: “I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.”
The president-elect had a nearly two-hour briefing that included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey, all of whom have cited evidence pointing to a Russian plan to hack Democrats backing Clinton, perhaps in an effort to aid Trump.
Trump and aides have questioned the government’s position that the Russians engineered the hacking in order to undermine Clinton, a conclusion officials reaffirmed during a Senate hearing Thursday.
In recent days, the president-elect has also softened his rhetoric about the intelligence agencies.
“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump said during a Thursday tweet storm.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House did not leak the report that Trump cited — and said he found it ironic that the president-elect was complaining about the disclosure. Just days ago, Earnest noted, Trump tweeted his approval of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has published classified information in addition to the Democratic emails that surfaced during the election.
Trump’s situational disapproval of leaks, Earnest said, “leads me to believe that his concerns are something other than protecting classified information.”
Lawmakers have criticized Trump for seeming to defend the Russians.
“I think it’s dangerous,” Vice President Biden told PBS NewsHour. “For a President not to have confidence in, not to be prepared to listen to the myriad of intelligence agencies from defense intelligence, to the CIA, et cetera, is absolutely mindless. It’s just mindless.”
DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile, meanwhile, pointed out that, “for the first time ever,” Trump “is not disputing the fact that Russia was behind the targeted attack on the DNC and the Clinton campaign.”
(h/t USA Today)
In a written statement Trump said that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” however Trump is lying. The report never waded into the territory of if there was an effect, just that the Putin-ordered hack and ensuing propaganda from Russia existed.