Donald Trump on Friday said he had a “constructive” meeting with intelligence officials but did not say whether he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia tried to influence the U.S. election.
After talking to intelligence leaders, Trump said in a statement that breaches had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.” However, he stopped short of addressing specific hacking and meddling allegations against Russia, instead highlighting cyberthreats posed by “Russia, China, other countries” and “outside groups and people.”
“I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation,” Trump said. “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. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.
He continued: “Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”
Intelligence officials were expected Friday to release parts of a report that led them to conclude that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, allegations that Trump has repeatedly decried as an effort to discredit him. A Trump transition spokesman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether he has accepted the intelligence community accusations that Russia directed attacks on Democrats.
On Friday, Trump argued that previous breaches of U.S. institutions did not get as much attention as the Russia accusations, which have prompted Obama administration sanctions and bipartisan calls for tougher responses to cyberattacks.
Just hours before his briefing, Trump told The New York Times that the focus on Russia is a “political witch hunt.” Trump for months has downplayed the accusations that Russia interfered with the process. He has sowed doubts by claiming that his opponents are using hacking accusations to discredit his electoral win.
Russia has denied links to the breaches of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
The Department of Homeland Security and FBI previously released limited details on the methods they say Russian civilian and military intelligence services used to breach U.S. political institutions. A more in-depth unclassified report is expected to be made public.
Trump expressed skepticism about the intelligence community’s conclusion well before the election. At the third presidential debate in October, after the intelligence community first said it believed Russia directed the recent email breaches, Trump contended that Clinton “had no idea” if Russia was responsible and that “China or anybody else” could have done it.
In early December, he attacked the CIA’s credibility based on its conclusions about weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq War, saying that “it’s now time to move on.”
He questioned the motivations of the intelligence community on Twitter this week, as well.