President-elect Donald Trump has long denied the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian-government directed hackers breached Democratic political organizations but ducked that question after a briefing by top intelligence officials Friday.
The briefing comes three months after intelligence agencies first publicly stated the Russian government was responsible for breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and shortly before those officials plan to release a report providing further evidence of that attribution.
It also comes one week after President Barack Obama sanctioned numerous Russian intelligence agencies and officials for the breach and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. who the State Department says are actually spies.
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Trump has consistently said that attribution was politically motivated. He described the investigation as a “witch hunt” directed by Democrats and Democratic sympathizers who “got beaten very badly in the election” to The New York Times on Friday.
The president-elect pledged a new plan to protect the government and private sector from cyberattacks in a written statement following his intelligence briefing at Trump Tower but did not say whether his position on the Russian attribution has shifted.
“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.
Intelligence officials have consistently stated there is no evidence anyone breached voting infrastructure on Election Day. They have also said there are too many variables to conclude whether email leaks from the DNC and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta affected Trump’s electoral victory over Clinton.
Some portions of the intelligence community report, which examines election breaches dating back to 2008, will be released today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said during a news conference Friday.
Pelosi called the classified version of the report, which was shared with top congressional leadership, “stunning” and said she hopes more of it is made public than is currently planned.
Pelosi echoed the intelligence community in saying there’s no way to tell whether the leaks affected the final electoral college results.
“Did it affect the Clinton campaign? Of course it did. Would it have come out differently? I don’t know, because there are many factors in an election,” she said.
Outgoing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who briefed Trump on Friday, balked at the president-elect’s public criticism of the intelligence community during a Senate hearing Thursday, saying the president-elect had crossed the line between healthy skepticism about intelligence conclusions and outright derision.
Trump’s critical tweets were likely to hurt morale at intelligence agencies and could drive some employees into the private sector, he said.
Trump described Friday’s meeting as “constructive,” adding, “I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”
He tweeted Thursday that “the media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!”