Washington: President-elect Donald Trump declined to single out Russia over cyber-interference in the US election after a briefing by top intelligence chiefs Friday, and said the election’s outcome was not affected by hacking.
In a statement after meeting four top intelligence chiefs, Trump acknowledged that cyber-attacks by Russia, China and other countries threaten US institutions, political parties, and businesses.
But there was no direct acceptance of the intelligence chiefs’ conclusion that Moscow was behind an unprecedented effort to influence the 2016 presidential race by hacking and leaking documents that embarrassed Trump rival Hillary Clinton.
“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,” Trump said in the statement.
Huge attention had focused on the Friday meeting between Trump and the heads of the Directorate of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.
Trump said their discussions had been “constructive.”
On Thursday Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate hearing he had “very high” confidence in intelligence findings pointing to a concerted Russian attempt to sway the election outcome.
“The Russians have a long history of interfering in elections, theirs and other people’s,” he told the Armed Services Committee. “But we have never encountered such a direct campaign to interfere with the election process as we have seen in this case.”
But Trump has persistently rejected their conclusion, questioning their evidence and demanding proof of their conclusion that the Russian action involved people at the “highest levels” of President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Trump has repeatedly argued that anyone could have hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee, and, just ahead of Friday’s briefing, labelled the allegations of Russian involvement a “political witch hunt.”
The meeting was to brief Trump on the detailed classified version of a report on Russian cyber-attacks and election interference ordered by outgoing President Barack Obama.
Obama, who was briefed on the report Thursday, had already taken retaliatory action against Russia at the end of December, ordering 35 Russian officials called he called intelligence agents expelled and hitting a number of Russian officials and organizations with sanctions.
An unclassified version of the report was to be released Friday afternoon, with attention focused on how the intelligence community have linked the Russian government to the hacking and release of the Democratic Party files through WikiLeaks.