Trump: Russian hacking commotion is a ‘political witch hunt’

Michael Walsh
Reporter
In this Dec. 28, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump listens to a question as he speaks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Donald Trump apparently couldn’t wait until his planned Friday meeting with top U.S. intelligence officials before questioning the evidence and procedures they used to conclude that Russian cyberattacks sought to influence the election.

Instead, the president-elect took to Twitter to question the reliability of the agencies upon which commanders in chief usually depend.

“The Democratic National Committee would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info after it was supposedly hacked by Russia,” Trump tweeted Thursday night.

“So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?”

Trump told the New York Times on Friday that the commotion surrounding the Russian hacking is no more than a “political witch hunt” by people who are embarrassed that he won the election.

“They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this,” he said.

Trump said that many other hacks go underreported even though in his estimation the United States is “like the hacking capital of the world.”

CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are scheduled to brief the celebrity businessman on their classified report, which is said to contain detailed evidence of the Kremlin’s interference with the American political process. Among other issues, the U.S. intelligence community blames Moscow for hacking the Democratic National Committee and high-profile Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Trump has repeatedly questioned information that is not advantageous to him while trumpeting anything that is. On the eve of his briefing, he still appeared to distrust the findings of agencies that are authorized to safeguard U.S. security.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper prepares to leave after testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: “Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States.” (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

A senior law enforcement official told the Associated Press that the FBI repeatedly emphasized to the DNC the importance of having direct access to its servers but was denied. The bureau ultimately retrieved the necessary information through a “third party,” the official said. The DNC told BuzzFeed that the FBI never requested the servers.

Earlier this week, Trump attacked the country’s leading intelligence officials and speculated (without providing evidence) that their meeting had been canceled because they still needed time to build a case. He also put the word “intelligence” in quotation marks.

“The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” he said. (Officials told various outlets that the meeting had always been set for Friday.)

Despite Trump’s insults, Brennan said Thursday that he anticipated a “robust if not sporty” conversation with the president-elect, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“I’m going to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

On Thursday, President Obama was briefed on the report, and Clapper testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the findings. Clapper said the Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks were merely one aspect of a multifaceted campaign directed at the United States.

The intelligence community is expected to release a declassified version to the public at some point.

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