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Trump downplays Russian hack in first comments on massive breach, implicates China

Trump's comments, which caught White House staff off guard, contradict members of his own Cabinet and are the latest example of his reluctance to criticize Russia.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed the hacking campaign that has torn through U.S. government agencies and businesses that experts believe is the work of Russian intelligence, deflecting blame away from Russia and suggesting Chinese involvement while contradicting top officials in his own administration.

Trump's comments caught the White House off guard as they attempted to square the president's comments with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks a day earlier saying that Russia was "pretty clearly" behind the hack, according to two officials with knowledge of the situation.

"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 wrote on Twitter.

Trump's comments are the latest example of his unwillingness to criticize Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies have said interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump.

The White House was preparing on Friday to formally attribute the cyber hack to Russia in a statement but were told to stand down, according to a U.S. official. The move was first reported by the Associated Press.

The official did not say who gave the instruction to stand down.

The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday. The Chinese Embassy in Washington also did not respond.

"At this time the NSC is focused on investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident, and working with our interagency partners to mitigate the situation. There will be an appropriate response to those actors behind this conduct," National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement Saturday.

Trump also baselessly claimed on Twitter on Saturday that the hack could have impacted voting machines, continuing his campaign to discredit the 2020 election results. Twitter flagged the president's tweet, noting that the election has been certified for Joe Biden.

U.S. intelligence agencies and experts have not linked China to this hack, which began at least as early as March, though it was discovered only last week. Trump did not provide any information in his tweet as to why he believes China could be involved.

The hack is being described as one of the most successful cyber infiltrations of U.S. government and corporate institutions in history.

Just hours before Trump's tweet, Pompeo, a close ally of the president, said in interview on the "Mark Levin Show" that he believed Russia was behind the hack.

"I can't say much more as we're still unpacking precisely what it is, and I'm sure some of it will remain classified," Pompeo said. "This was a very significant effort, and I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity."

When asked if Trump would speak out during the investigation, Pompeo said sometimes the "wiser course of action to protect the American people is to calmly go about your business and defend freedom."

Trump has been criticized by President-elect Joe Biden for letting the massive security breach happen under his watch and for his past silence on the issue.

"We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking significant cyber attacks in the first place," Biden said in a statement earlier this week. "Our adversaries should know that, as president, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation."