WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, blasted Russia on Sunday for a cyberattack that he said amounted to an "invasion," adding that President Donald Trump's unwillingness to blame Russia shows that he has a "blind spot" when it comes to the country.
U.S. officials believe Russian intelligence was behind a suspected hacking campaign unveiled this month that infiltrated more than 40 organizations, including many government agencies and contractors.
But while top government officials, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly said it appears that Russia was behind the hack, Trump cast doubt on the assessment Saturday on Twitter, where he suggested that "it may be China" who perpetrated the hack.
"I was disappointed with the president's comment," Romney said in an interview on NBC News' "Meet the Press." "But I think we've come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia. And the reality here is that the experts, the people who really understand how our systems work and how computers work and software and so forth, the thousands upon thousands at the CIA and the NSA and the Department of Defense, have determined that this came from Russia.
"This is an extraordinarily damaging invasion, and it went on for a long, long time," he said.
Microsoft said Thursday that the hack targeted more than 40 organizations, primarily in the United States. The groups were targeted primarily by an attack on a technology company called SolarWinds, which provides software to clients like government agencies and private companies.
Multiple government agencies are reported to have been breached, and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency directed agencies to stop using SolarWinds products.
A private security official briefed about the matter confirmed last week that Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service launched the attack, and Pompeo said Friday that "we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity."
Still, officials were told to stand down on a planned statement from the White House blaming Russia for the hack, NBC News has confirmed. And Trump tweeted out his doubts after Pompeo's statement, musing about the possibility that China may have perpetrated the hack and seeking to connect it to his false allegations of widespread election fraud.
"The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of ... discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!)," Trump tweeted.
Romney, who was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump on one article of impeachment this year, said it's clear that Trump "backs away" from "anything that suggests Russia is being malevolent or not treating him with the respect he deserves."
"He doesn't want to recognize Russia as the problem they are and the extraordinarily bad actor they are on the world stage," Romney said. "Because it reflects poorly on him, at least perhaps in his own mind. And the reality is Russia really is a geopolitical adversary. They go against us on every front. They have now invaded our cyberspace again. They kill people in their own country, whether it's politicians or media people."
Romney repeatedly referred to the cyberattack as "an invasion" and said: "We have to have a very clear-eyed approach to how we deal with Russia going forward.
"This demands a response, and the response you'd expect to occur would be a cyber response," he said.
"I don't know if we have the capacity to do that in a way that would be of the same scale or even greater scale than what Russia has applied to us, but this is something we have to address as soon as possible."