Trump issues statement after intelligence briefing on Russia: The hackings didn't affect the outcome of the election; Update: U.S. intel releases declassified report on Russian hacking

That’s the most noteworthy bit in an otherwise neutral statement about what he was told today, which may well have included the names of the Russians who handed off the hacked material to Wikileaks. Hackings did and do happen, he allows, and Russia — and China — certainly are responsible for some of them, but as for who hacked the DNC and John Podesta, no comment. For now.

I wonder how much of his annoyance at the uproar over the Russia hackings is due to how it complicates his detente with Putin and how much is due to how it’s being used to call the legitimacy of his victory into question. I think he’s right that the outcome in November would have been the same without the Wikileaks stuff, but it’s debatable and the media’s sloppiness in describing Russia’s operations as “election hackings” clearly has given some people some very, very mistaken impressions. It doesn’t help either to have Clinton campaign hacks like Robby Mook weighing in to demand that the intel report on Russia be released, as that enhances the sense that for Democrats this is mainly about delegitimizing Trump’s win, not punishing Putin. Trump himself was candid about this, in fact, in an interview with the NYT earlier today:

“China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names,” he said, referring to the breach of computers at the Office of Personnel Management in late 2014 and early 2015. “How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt.”…

Mr. Trump, who has consistently expressed doubts about the evidence of Russian hacking during the election, did so again on Friday. Asked why he thought there was so much attention being given to the Russian cyberattacks, the president-elect said the motivation was political.

“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Trump said during an eight-minute telephone conversation. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.” In fact, Mr. Trump won more counties than any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, according to a PolitiFact analysis citing data from the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.

Maybe he’d be more open to acknowledging Russian culpability if Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and Rogers agreed to issue a statement noting that, in their opinion, the hacked material wasn’t decisive in the election. They have no basis for saying that, really — they’re intelligence analysts, not electoral experts — but a concession that the hackings don’t undermine his legitimacy as president might make him less defensive about admitting Putin’s culpability. In fact, I wonder if that’s how he and Mike Pompeo might try to square this circle when Pompeo takes over in a few weeks at the CIA. If Pompeo declares that it’s the agency’s opinion that Russia is guilty but that Trump’s victory is clean, Trump might accept that compromise. Even then, though, having his own administration pointing a finger at Russia will make it hard for him to roll back sanctions. What will the spin be if he does that while Mike Pompeo’s CIA is accusing Putin of crimes against U.S. citizens? “We all make mistakes”?

Another way he’s going to try to hedge on Russia is by getting congressional Republicans to investigate the leakers in the IC who’ve been dribbling out information about the Russia hackings for the past two months:

Democrat Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intel Committee, didn’t like that:

Little late for Democrats to be complaining about that now. If Trump wants presidential precedents to justify cracking down on leakers who are politically inconvenient to him, he knows exactly where to look.

The declassified report on Russia’s operations is expected to be released at any minute as I write this. While we wait, go read this smart piece at the Daily Beast on how U.S. intelligence screwed up the presentation of its evidence against Putin. They’ve got the goods, notes author Kevin Poulsen, but you can’t be faulted for doubting them given how half-assed they’ve been about putting it forward.

Update: And here’s the report now. I’m only just starting to read, but the key findings are listed up front. “High confidence”:


On the other hand, “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.” They didn’t hack the vote, they tried to influence how Americans would vote.

Update: Paul Ryan tries to pave the way for Pompeo, perhaps, by accusing Russia while emphasizing that Trump would have won anyway:

Update: Here’s the passage on Russia and Wikileaks. (“GRU” is Russian military intelligence, one of the outfits accused of infiltrating the DNC’s servers.) As noted up top, U.S. intel thinks they know the identities of the middlemen who handed the hacked material to Assange.

We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.

 In early September, Putin said publicly it was important the DNC data was exposed to WikiLeaks, calling the search for the source of the leaks a distraction and denying Russian
“state-level” involvement.

 The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks. RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian
Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT, according to Russian and Western media. Russian media subsequently announced that RT had become “the only Russian media company” to partner with WikiLeaks and had received access to “new leaks of secret information.” RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States.

One of the few surprises in the report is the long annex at the end focused on the Russian propaganda outlet RT and its influence in the west. Looks like U.S. intel, knowing the sort of reach this report will have online, used it as an opportunity to try to educate Americans about RT, its backers, and its motives.

Update: Natsec people are slamming the declassified report as underwhelming, as it’s really just a list of bullet-point assertions without any of the supporting evidence that appears in the classified version. More fodder for Poulsen’s point.