Donald Trump acknowledged after meeting with U.S. intelligence officials Friday that Russia has waged cyberattacks on America but continued to insist they had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the 2016 presidential election.
In a carefully worded statement that avoided more criticism of an intelligence community he has openly feuded with in recent days, Trump stopped short of saying he accepted findings shared across those agencies that Russia waged cyberattacks on U.S. political institutions to influence the election.
According to a declassified version of a long-anticipated report, the intelligence community found "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."
Trump told the New York Times on Friday, just hours ahead of the briefing, that brouhaha over the findings were part of a political "witch hunt" orchestrated by those hoping to undermine his victory.
"They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it's a witch hunt. They just focus on this," Trump he told the paper.
Following the meeting, which Trump called “constructive,” he struck a more muted tone.
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“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,” he said in his statement, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
Trump pledged to appoint a team charged with coming up with a plan within 90 days to "to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks" but said that the ways in which the intelligence community works to keep the nation safe "should not be a public discussion."
A senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed to NBC News that the report, which was delivered to President Obama on Thursday, found Russia waged cyber intrusions against the Democratic National Committee, the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department and American corporations — though not all the attempts were successful. Senior Russians officials also celebrated Trump’s victory, according to the report.
Multiple media outlets reported on the contents of the report, citing senior intelligence officials, but Trump singled out NBC News on Twitter.
“I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it,” Trump tweeted.
A spokesperson for the House Intelligence Committee told NBC News on Friday they have “not received an official request” for an investigation from Donald Trump or his team. An aide for the Senate Intelligence Committee also says they have not received a formal request for an investigation from Trump or his team.
In instances where actual top secret material is allegedly leaked by a government official, a criminal investigation is conducted by the executive branch through the FBI, not through congressional committees.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials said they have no doubt Russia was behind the attacks. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the committee Thursday he stands “more resolutely” than ever that Russia impacted the election.
"We assess that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets,” he told Congress.
Clapper, along with CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey, briefed the president-elect at Trump Tower.
Members of the president-elect’s own party have sought to distance themselves from his skepticism, especially Trump’s tweet citing Julian Assange’s assessment that Russia did not provide his website with hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.
“Do you think there’s any credibility we should attach to this individual,” Senate Intelligence Chair John McCain asked.
“Not in my view,” Clapper said.
Senior members of Congress were briefed Friday morning and a public version of the report could be released following Trump’s briefing.
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