(Bloomberg) — Facing calls to strike back at Russia for President Vladimir Putin’s decision to hack the 2016 U.S. election campaign, president-elect Donald Trump instead suggested warmer relations between the two countries.
“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said Saturday in a series of three Twitter posts. “Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one.”
“When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now,” Trump assured his 18.9 million Twitter followers. The comments came a day after being presented with evidence by top U.S. intelligence officials that Putin personally ordered cyber and disinformation attacks during the campaign.
Trump also blamed the Democratic National Committee for allowing hacking to occur during the U.S. presidential campaign and restated there was “no evidence” cyberintrusions that U.S. intelligence officials pinned on had affected the election results.
“Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!” Trump said.
Putin developed “a clear preference” for Trump to win, the intelligence agencies said Friday in a declassified report on their findings. The agencies said they “assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” according to the report.
“All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence,” the report said.
The report was issued shortly after the president-elect met at Trump Tower in New York with intelligence officials for a briefing on their findings that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democratic Party computers and the leaking of e-mails damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump has questioned the conclusion that Russia was behind the breach, a stance that has put him at odds with some top congressional Republicans. Russia has repeatedly denied the hacking accusations.
In a series of tweets starting late Friday, Trump said “gross negligence” by the DNC “allowed hacking” to occur. By contrast, “the Republican National Committee had strong defense!” he said — although the intelligence report said that Russia had targeted both major parties.
In a statement after Friday’s meeting, the president-elect sought to tamp down his differences with the intelligence agencies — he said he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation” — although he didn’t explicitly endorse their conclusions that Russia was responsible.
“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 the statement.
Posting on Twitter early Saturday, Trump repeated that voting machines were not touched.
The intelligence agencies agreed there was no evidence of ballots being hacked but said in the report that, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Trump said Friday he will appoint a team to develop a plan “to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks” within 90 days of taking office.
In a related move on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security designated elections systems as “critical infrastructure,” which will allow the federal government to provide cybersecurity resources to state and local jurisdictions. That includes protecting voter registration databases, voting machines and computer systems used to manage elections, the department said in statement, adding that this doesn’t denote a “takeover” of elections.
Closer to Russia
Trump has expressed admiration for Putin as a strong leader and predicted they can work together on issues such as fighting Islamic State terrorists.
He returned to that theme on Saturday. “Both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”
Drawing on multiple intelligence sources, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency said in the report that Russia’s operation blended covert activity, including cyberattacks, with public efforts by Russian government agencies, state-funded media and paid social media users known as “trolls.”
The agencies emphasized that the public version issued Friday, unlike classified versions presented to Trump, President Barack Obama, and members of Congress, didn’t include all of the sources, methods and supporting evidence used by the American spy agencies.
Russia’s intelligence services initially carried out cyber operations against targets involved in last year’s presidential campaign, including the Republican as well as the Democratic party, the agencies said.
“Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates,” according to the report. “When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.”
Eventually, the agencies said, “Putin publicly indicated a preference for President-elect Trump’s stated policy to work with Russia, and pro-Kremlin figures spoke highly about what they saw as his Russia-friendly positions on Syria and Ukraine. Putin publicly contrasted the president-elect’s approach to Russia with Secretary Clinton’s ‘aggressive rhetoric.”’
Russian intelligence gained access to DNC networks in July 2015 and remained there until at least June 2016. The GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, “probably began cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election by March 2016,” the report said. “By May, the GRU had exfiltrated large volumes of data from the DNC.”
“We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks,” the report said. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said Russia didn’t give him the leaked e-mails, although he hasn’t commented on whether an intermediary might have done so.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nafeesa Syeed in Washington at email@example.com. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ros Krasny, Steve Geimann