On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump held a press conference in Poland and declared that “nobody really knows” who meddled in the 2016 election.
Trump’s assessment breaks sharply from the U.S. intelligence community, which has pinned the blame squarely on Russia.
Trump was asked: “Will you once and for all, yes or no, say that Russia definitive interfered with the 2016 election.”
He refused to do so, saying that “it could have been other people in other countries.”
Strangely, as Trump cast doubt on whether Russia was involved, he also sharply criticized Obama for not taking action against Russia during the campaign.
Trump said that Obama refused to act because he thought Hillary Clinton would win — an implicit acknowledgement not only that Russia intervened but that Russia’s purpose was to help him win the election.
If it was truly unclear who was responsible, Obama’s alleged hesitancy to act would have been appropriate.
“He was told in early August by presumably the CIA that Russia was trying to get involved or meddling pretty strongly with the election,” Trump said of Obama. “He did nothing about it. The reason is he thought Hillary was going to win and if he thought I was going to win he would have done plenty about it.”
Trump dismissed the assessment from the U.S. intelligence community, saying he had done “heavy research” and found it was only the opinion of only “three or four” agencies. Those agencies were the FBI, CIA, and the NSA, along with the Director of National Intelligence. No intelligence agencies disagreed with the assessment — some simply weren’t involved.
James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8 about the findings of the intelligence community:
The two dozen or so analysts for this task were hand-picked, seasoned experts from each of the contributing agencies. They were given complete, unfettered mutual access to all sensitive raw intelligence data, and importantly, complete independence to reach their findings. They found that the Russian government pursued a multifaceted influence campaign in the run-up to the election, including aggressive use of cyber capabilities.
Former FBI Director James Comey was definitive in his June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee:
BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections?
BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.
Former CIA Director John Brennan had a similar assessment on May 23 before the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
I think they’re all chronicled in the unclassified intelligence community assessment, in terms of — it’s very clear that the GRU was responsible for hacking into the — the networks of the DNC, DCCC, and were responsible, through a cutout, releasing it through places like Guccifer 2.0, WikiLeaks and — and others.
Notably, intelligence officials in Trump’s own administration share this assessment, including Mike Rogers, Trump’s NSA Director; Dan Coats, Trump’s Director of National Intelligence; and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA Director.
Trump then turned his attention to the media, saying “many of your compatriots had to change their reporting and apologize and they had to correct” their reporting on Russian interference. (Trump is referring to this technical correction by the AP, regarding how many agencies were actively involved in the intelligence assessment, which doesn’t actually speak to the issue of Russian involvement.)
Trump then used that as a jumping off point for casting more doubt on Russian interference. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
Polish officials then cut off NBC Reporter Hallie Jackson’s microphone before she could ask a follow up question.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 6, 2017
Trump’s response — while internally incoherent — will likely please Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has denied involvement in election-related hacking.
Trump is not expected to raise the issue in his first meeting with Putin as president, scheduled for Friday.