Trump calls intelligence briefing on Russian hacking 'constructive'

President-elect Donald Trump downplayed Russia's role in the election after a briefing with top US intelligence officials, even as a declassified report of their conclusions pointed definitively at Vladimir Putin.

"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 in a statement after the meeting.

In a statement Friday accompanying the release of a declassified report on Russian involvement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that the "Intelligence Community did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election."

It added that the Department of Homeland Security concluded that "the types of systems the Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying."

Trump also tried to defuse controversy over his criticism of the Intelligence Community and continued refusal to accept Moscow's actions, calling the Friday meeting "constructive" and offering praise for the senior intel officials.
But his refusal to acknowledge their conclusions drew sharp responses from Democratic lawmakers. And with the release of the report, Democrats said they will renew their push for a bipartisan independent commission to investigate Russia's actions. To date, Republicans have insisted on keeping investigations within existing committees that they control.

"There must be a bipartisan, independent, outside commission to understand how Russia hacked into our democratic institutions, and to ensure it never happens again," said House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. "Vladimir Putin's assault on American democracy was political thuggery in support of Donald Trump, and there must be consequences."

Pelosi, who had earlier called the report's conclusions "stunning," said she is co-sponsoring House legislation that was re-introduced Friday and calls for a bipartisan, independent commission. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, formerly a longstanding member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she and other senators will soon introduce a similar bill.

"This issue must not be politicized -- all Americans should be outraged at Russia's actions, and we must hold them accountable," she said.

Senate Minority Leader and New York Democrat Charles Schumer said, "That any foreign power could influence an American election should send shivers down the spines of both political parties, regardless of which party benefited this time around ... We need to confront this interference head on, in an aggressive and bipartisan manner. If we don't, it'll be open season for any foreign power who wants to cause trouble in our elections."

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, dismissed Trump's argument out of hand.

"The President-Elect's statement that the Russian hacking had 'absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election' is not supported by the briefing, report, or common sense," Schiff said in a statement.
He added that while there was no tampering with vote tallying, "it is another thing to say that the daily dumping of documents disparaging to Secretary Clinton that was made possible by Russian cyber operations had no effect on the campaigns."

Schiff said the Putin-directed effort was "hugely beneficial to the President-Elect and damaging to the Clinton campaign, just as the Russians intended," and called on Trump to act "appropriately in the face of this clear-cut, Russian malicious activity against America. That starts by accepting the facts. The President-Elect must not obfuscate or distract, but deal honestly with the truth of what happened.

One Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, took the opportunity to pressure Trump to get tougher on Moscow.
"I take his statement as an encouraging sign that he wants to push back against those who engaged in cyberattacks against our country's national security, economic and political interests," Graham said in a statement.

"More specifically, when it comes to Russia, I look forward to working with President-elect Trump to achieve those goals," added Graham, who is pushing to sanction Russia for its activities in cyberspace, Syria and against US allies in Europe. "Now is the time to throw rocks, not pebbles, and a good place for us to start would be to institute additional punishments on Russia for their cyber interference in the 2016 elections."

Shortly after Trump's statement, the Intelligence Community released a declassified version of the report that found Putin had ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of denigrating Clinton, boosting Trump and undermining public faith in the democratic process.

"We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the intelligence report said.

The Russian efforts blended covert activity, including cyber operations, with overt efforts, including paying social media "trolls." The operation was just "the most recent expression of Moscow's longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal order," the report said.

The report shared conclusions reached in the classified version, but didn't include information that could give away sources and collection methods.

Despite the fact that the Intelligence Community has never argued that the hacks swayed the outcome of the election, Trump and other Republicans have continued to emphasize that point in his statement. Intelligence leaders have been careful to stress that voting systems weren't tampered with, but they told a Senate hearing Thursday that it was impossible to assess how the hacking may have affected voters' attitudes. After lawmakers and intelligence officials expressed concern at that hearing about Trump's putdowns of the Intelligence Community, he praised them in his statement Friday.

"I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation," Trump said.

Former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called those comments a step in the right direction for Trump.
"I pray that we get beyond this bickering and tweeting with regards to the intelligence community," he said on CNN's "The Situation Room." "And his statement today at least was a step in the right direction. He talked about having a constructive meeting, he indicated he has tremendous respect for the men and women in our intelligence community ... so I hope that he's moving in the right direction."

Trump also said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.

The United States' most senior intelligence officials briefed Trump on Russian hacking during the election campaign just hours after Trump doubled down on his dismissal of the threat as an artificial and politically driven controversy, calling it a "witch hunt."

Trump's meeting with the intell officials took around 90 minutes at Trump Tower. A Trump spokeswoman said the officials who gave the briefing were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey.

President Barack Obama, who last month asked the intelligence community to provide the comprehensive report on Russia's cyber activities last month, was briefed Thursday.

Trump's muted reaction to the officials' briefing will not subdue questions about his stance on Russia. Trump has repeatedly rejected the October assessment of all 17 US intelligence agencies that Russia stole and shared emails from Democratic organizations and individuals and probed voting systems in several states.

Throughout the campaign, Trump emphasized his interest in improving relations with Moscow and his admiration for Putin, who he has praised as a strong leader who is "very smart." That praise has puzzled observers, who point to Russia's annexation of Crimea, its alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its attempts to destabilize US allies in Europe, particularly in the Baltic states, its harassment of US diplomats, and its systematic expulsion of American Non-Governmental Organizations in Russia.

Trump has derided intelligence agencies for weeks, setting off the word "intelligence" in quotation marks to indicate his skepticism and suggesting their conclusions were politically motivated. That idea is anathema to officers who pride themselves on providing "unvarnished" and "untainted" information to policy makers, Clapper said.

California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings re-introduced a bill Friday to establish a bipartisan, 12-member commission that has the support of 170 House lawmakers. The legislation calls for the commission to examine Russia's hacking as well as cyber intrusions by other nations and produce a report with recommendations to the President within 18 months.

Over 50,000 Americans have signed a petition released today urging Congress to create an independent commission, telling lawmakers that "regardless of whether you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, Russia's attacks on our election are an attempt to degrade our democracy."

President-elect Donald Trump speaks in Hershey, Pa., on Dec. 15, 2016. (Photo: Don Emmert, AFP/Getty Images)

Trump still questions intelligence on Russia hacking after briefing

NEW YORK — 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.

Changing rhetoric

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."


TRUMP CONTRADICTS INTELLIGENCE FINDINGS AFTER BRIEFING

Just 10 or so minutes after Donald Trump left his first briefing on the scope of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the president-elect’s transition office released a statement offering praise for the intelligence community, but appearing to contradict or disregard the evidence he was presented Friday by top officials form the C.I.A., F.B.I., N.S.A., and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

After spending the past several weeks denying, dismissing, and criticizing the assessment of the nation’s intelligence agencies that Russian president Vladimir Putin oversaw a coordinated effort to launch cyber-attacks against Democrats to help defeat Hillary Clinton, the two-hour briefing apparently did little overcome the president-elect’s skepticism.

While Trump cast Friday’s meeting as “constructive”—an improvement over the “political witch hunt” he described earlier in the day—he stopped short of agreeing with the intelligence community’s conclusions, instead suggesting that any number of potential bad actors could have been behind the hacks that disrupted last year’s election. “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 [sic] National Committee,” the statement reads, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

The ambiguity of Trump’s statement stood in sharp contrast to the declassified version of the D.N.I.’s report, published later Friday, which argued in plain terms that the Kremlin specifically sought “to undermine public faith” in the Democratic process and to “denigrate” Clinton and “harm her electability and potential presidency.” The report went on to assert that Putin and his government “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances” through a sprawling influence campaign. The highly anticipated document also claimed that it was, in fact, Russian actors who brought the e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign chair John Podesta to WikiLeaks. It also outlined the complex propaganda apparatus Moscow used to push pro-Trump content and tarnish Clinton’s candidacy.

Over the past several days, Trump has come under fire for appearing to suggest that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was more credible than U.S. intelligence agencies when he claimed that the hacked e-mails had not come from Russia. And in his statement Friday, Trump continued to lay the blame for the D.N.C. hack on Democrats themselves, saying “There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.”

Still, the president-elect said he would take action in office to shore up America’s cyber-security to prevent future incursions. “Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks,” Trump conceded. “I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. 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. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”

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