President-elect Donald Trump has declined to single out Russia over cyber-interference in the US election after a briefing by top intelligence chiefs yesterday, and said he was confident the outcome was not affected by hacking.
Trump made the statement after meeting four top intelligence chiefs who have concluded that senior Russian government officials were behind an unprecedented effort to influence the election by hacking and leaking documents that embarrassed Trump rival Hillary Clinton.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” he said in a statement.
He pledged aggressive action to stop cyber-attacks.
The president-elect, who had earlier questioned the intelligence community’s findings, called the meeting “constructive” and expressed support for their work.
Earlier yesterday, before the meeting, he had branded the whole thing a “political witch hunt”.
US intelligence believes that the Kremlin directly interfered in the run-up to November’s presidential election by breaking into the servers of Trump’s Democratic rivals.
In fact, just hours before the politically-charged classified briefing, the brash billionaire gave a telephone interview with the New York Times, alleging an attempt to undermine him.
“This is a political witch hunt,” he told the paper, noting that his outgoing predecessor President Barack Obama had presided over several cyber-security failures.
Trump has consistently mocked or cast doubt on reports backed by leaked evidence from secret investigations that Vladimir Putin personally sought to sway the election in his favour over rival Hillary Clinton.
Clinton’s Democratic supporters, and a significant number of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress, have expressed dismay that he would side with Russia over US intelligence.
But Trump, long an outspoken supporter of warmer ties with Moscow, has remained unrepentant and in his New York Times interview appeared to be gearing up to reject the report.
“They got beaten very badly in the election,” Trump told the paper, accusing Clinton’s supporters of boosting the controversy to cover up the shortcomings of her campaign. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”
After Trump first raised doubts last month, President Obama ordered the intelligence community to produce a comprehensive report on the suspected cyber-attacks and Russia’s alleged role in the election.
Obama was briefed on the report on Thursday and intelligence chiefs were scheduled to talk to Trump yesterday – after leaked details of the report appeared in the media.
This too infuriated Trump, who declared via Twitter that he would ask the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate who leaked details to NBC news.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that he had “very high” confidence in their findings.
“The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections, theirs and other people’s,” he said. “But we have never encountered such a direct campaign to interfere with the election process as we have seen in this case. The hacking was only one part of it, and it also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news.”
Clapper, National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, and Marcel Lettre, under-secretary of defence for intelligence, said in a statement that “only Russia’s senior-most officials” could have authorised the operation.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan were also part of the Trump briefing group at Trump Tower.
Files from hacked Democratic Party accounts were published by WikiLeaks, embarrassing the party and harming the losing candidate Clinton’s White House effort.
Trump has taken to Twitter to mock past intelligence errors of the CIA, FBI and other agencies, challenging them to prove that the hacking and leaks could be traced up to the Kremlin.
US officials familiar with the classified report told CNN that the intermediaries who delivered the stolen e-mails from Russia to WikiLeaks had been identified.
And US intelligence agencies intercepted communications from senior Russian officials celebrating Trump’s victory as a win for Moscow, according to a report in the Washington Post.
An unclassified version of the report – stripped of sensitive details – will be released to the public early next week.
Yesterday’s briefing for Trump will come amid worries he has already poisoned future relations between his White House and key parts of the national security establishment.
Trump raised more hackles on Wednesday by citing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to suggest that anyone, even a 14-year-old child, could have been behind the hacking.
Under strong criticism from politicians of both parties for apparently placing more trust in Assange than the CIA and FBI, Trump defended himself on Twitter on Thursday.
“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” he said. “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people ... to make up their own minds as to the truth.”
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Bolsonaro joins demonstrators as scandal heats up amid pandemic
SpaceX set to launch astronauts into orbit for the first time
Americans soak up sun as toll nears 100,000
Brazil’s Bolsonaro rocked by release of expletive-laced video
South America now the virus epicentre
Anti-viral drug effective against coronavirus, study finds
US sees 1,260 coronavirus deaths in past 24 hours
Latin America named virus epicenter as Trump seeks US reopening
Natives seek help to stop oil exploration in Amazon river