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Trump says hacking had ‘no effect’ on election outcome

The president-elect also says a team will create a plan within the first 90 days of his administration to combat cyberattacks.


After huddling in Trump Tower with the nation’s top intelligence officials on Friday, Donald Trump remained steadfast in his conclusion that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” an assessment he reiterated even as his team sought to downplay attention paid to election-season cyberattacks as a “political witch hunt.”

“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation,” Trump said in the opening of a carefully crafted statement released after his briefing.

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But he followed that message of respect and thanks with a declarative statement of his own — that the cyberattacks had not played a role in his victory. That statement was not attributed to the intelligence officials Trump had met with just minutes earlier, and nowhere in his statement did Trump address the culprits behind the election-season cyberattacks.

“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.

Trump also said that there had been similar attacks against the Republican National Committee but that those attacks failed because of the RNC’s “strong hacking defenses.” He said he will appoint a team upon assuming the presidency responsible for creating a plan within the first 90 days of his administration to combat cyberattacks.

With speculation mounting about whether Trump would finally embrace the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia tried to help Trump win, the president-elect and his team earlier on Friday sought to characterize the increased attention on the hacking efforts as little more than sour grapes from Democrats and the media, upset by a presidential upset that few saw coming.

“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Trump said of his political opponents in a Friday morning interview with the New York Times. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”

Trump and his team’s attempt to deflect came before he received the much-anticipated briefing in Trump Tower from the heads of multiple U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian efforts to aid his candidacy by hacking Democratic targets. It has been the consensus assessment of the intelligence community since October that Russia was behind those attacks, but Trump has been unwilling to concede that conclusion, pointedly casting doubt on the intelligence community at nearly every turn.

In a sign of the high tensions, both U.S. officials and Trump’s team attempted to front-run the meeting by airing their side of the story. Both the Washington Post and NBC News spoke to U.S. officials Thursday night, detailing at least some of the evidence proving Russia was behind the cyberattacks. That the evidence was made public before his briefing provoked Trump to respond on Twitter.

“How did NBC get ‘an exclusive look into the top secret report he (Obama) was presented?’ Who gave them this report and why? Politics!” Trump tweeted. He followed that post with one on Friday, writing that “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 unclassified portion of the report on Russia hacking is expected to be made public as early as Friday afternoon.

Trump’s allies on Friday also pushed the idea that the focus on Russian hacking was part of a larger agenda to discredit Trump’s victory, and that Trump was simply expressing healthy skepticism about intelligence.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, engaged in a contentious interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who pressed Conway on whether Trump was “sheltering” Russia.

Sen. John McCain said "Congress must set partisanship aside" to respond to Russian cyberattacks.

“He’s not sheltering Russia, and don’t you say that again,” Conway shot back.

She also stated emphatically that “Russia didn’t want Trump to win the election” and said, “The idea that somehow conclusive evidence has been out there in the public domain … is simply not true.” Instead, she said that the uptick in attention paid to the Russian cyberattacks is a direct result of Trump’s victory and the work of “those out there who are trying to delegitimize his presidency, review the election results and you know it.” Those looking to undercut the incoming administration will fail, Conway said, simply because of Trump’s decisive victory.

“I don’t want to relitigate the election, because we won,” she said as Cuomo tried to talk over her. “No, I don’t want to relitigate the election. We won, and that says a lot. That finishes many sentences.”

When Cuomo suggested during the interview that it was “troubling” that Trump might be ignoring the assessment of the intelligence community, Conway replied “no, it’s not” and added that the CNN anchor was “making conclusions up.”

On “CBS This Morning,” Conway denied that Trump has disparaged intelligence officials, despite having mocked them on Twitter.

“President-elect Donald Trump has great respect [for] the intelligence community. We’re very happy that the top intelligence officials will be here at Trump Tower today to give their own briefing to the president-elect,” Conway said.

She also questioned why U.S. officials are trying to get out ahead of the public release of the hacking report, and expressed skepticism about the Obama administration’s decision to expel 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States to punish the country for the cyberattacks.


“What’s disappointing is having leaks in the media before we actually have a report on the alleged hacking, and it’s been very confounding to us, and certainly to the president-elect, why this report, if it wasn’t prepared until yesterday, why operatives were expelled, why punishment preceded actual conclusions.”

In his interview with the Times, Trump pointed to other issues, like the Chinese attack into the Office of Personnel Management and the move by Democratic National Committee interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile to give Hillary Clinton advance notice of Democratic primary debate questions, as equally troubling subjects that receive relatively little coverage. In her own slate of interviews Friday, Conway offered similar complaints.

Expected to be in attendance at Friday’s briefing was the full slate of intelligence chiefs, including FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Trump transition team members in the room included incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus as well as incoming NSA Director Michael Flynn and his incoming deputy, K.T. McFarland. CIA Director-designate Rep. Mike Pompeo and incoming homeland security adviser Tom Bossert were also in attendance.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime supporter of Trump’s and a finalist to be his running mate, said earlier on Friday on Fox News that the president-elect should be “both skeptical and frankly pretty angry” when he meets with the heads of the intelligence community.

“The report gets to NBC before it gets to Donald Trump? I mean, what the devil is going on here? To what degree is this a political charade to allow Democrats to blame the Russians rather than Hillary for her defeat?” Gingrich said. “The whole thing is a mess.”

Trump has long been criticized for his warm overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has rankled many Russia hawks in Congress.

The president-elect and Putin have continued their praise of each other since Trump’s surprise win in November, and Trump’s choice of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson — who was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Putin — as secretary of state also alarmed those critical of Russia’s autocratic ruler.

Putin has denied that Russia directed the hacks of the DNC and the private email account of Podesta, which produced embarrassing emails that proved distracting for Clinton’s operation.

“Everyone’s talking about who’s done it. Does it really matter that much? What matters is what’s inside this information,” Putin said at an economic forum in Moscow in October.

“There’s nothing there benefiting Russia,” he added. “The hysteria is simply to distract the American people from the contents of what the hackers have posted.”

Those statements came shortly after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for the first time publicly blamed Russia for the hacks and concluded the country was trying to interfere in the U.S. election.

Trump, however, said he has no reason to believe that conclusion.

In a December interview with Time magazine, when it named him man of the year, Trump said he did not agree with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind the hacked documents that ended up on WikiLeaks.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said.

Former Sen. Dan Coats is pictured. | Getty

He has continued to disparage the intelligence community, including this week, claiming that intelligence officials pushed back his briefing because they needed more time to make their case.

“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, using strategic quotemarks.

Trump also appeared to side with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who told Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week that Russia wasn’t the source of the DNC and Podesta emails.

On the eve of Trump’s intelligence briefing, Clapper and other officials defended their assessment on Russia’s involvement, telling members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the intelligence community “will ascribe a motivation” for why Putin would have directed cyberattacks against the U.S. when it releases its report.

Clapper also said Trump’s rhetoric about intelligence agencies is alarming American allies. “I’ve received many expressions of concern from foreign counterparts about, you know, the disparagement of the U.S. intelligence community, or I should say what has been interpreted as disparagement of the intelligence community,” he said.

He added about Trump: “I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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