Trump calls intelligence briefing on Russian hacking ‘constructive’

Posted at 3:26 PM, Jan 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-06 15:26:25-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President-elect Donald Trump said Friday he had a “constructive meeting and conversation” with the country’s top intelligence officials who briefed him on alleged Russian election-related hacking, but he added there was no impact on the voting results.

“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,” he said in a statement after the meeting.

Trump insisted that hacking did not impact the outcome of the election, which is not a claim the Intelligence Community has ever made. And after lawmakers and intelligence officials expressed concern about his denigration of the Intelligence Community, he included a statement of support. “I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation,” Trump said.

Trump also said he will appoint a team within 90 days to figure out ways to stop foreign hacking.

The United States’ most senior intelligence officials briefed Trump on Russian hacking during the election campaign just hours after Trump doubled down on his dismissal of the threat as an artificial and politically driven controversy.

The meeting of around 90 minutes took place at Trump Tower. A Trump spokeswoman said that the officials who gave the briefing were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey.

The conclusions of the report they presented Trump are “stunning,” according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who told reporters early Friday that she and other congressional leaders had been briefed by members of the Intelligence Community before they traveled to New York to outline their findings to Trump.

Pelosi said the report was “stunning in its conclusions,” and mentioned the “boldness” of the Russians.

President Barack Obama, who asked the intelligence community to provide a comprehensive report on Russia’s cyber activities last month, was briefed Thursday.

A declassified version of the report is set to be released publicly Friday afternoon.

Trump’s muted reaction to the officials’ briefing will not subdue questions about his stance on Russia. Trump has repeatedly rejected the October assessment of all 17 US intelligence agencies that Russia stole and leaked emails from Democratic organizations and individuals and probed voting systems in several states.

Just hours before the briefing, Trump told The New York Times that the focus on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election is “a political witch hunt.” On CNN Friday, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted that the President-elect hadn’t seen conclusive evidence of Russian interference.

Trump has been declining most of the daily briefings the Intelligence Community are ready to provide him.

After the election, intelligence agencies announced that further information had led them to conclude that Moscow had interfered with the aim of tipping the election toward Trump. Intelligence leaders have been careful to stress that voting systems weren’t tampered with, but Clapper told a Senate hearing Thursday that it was impossible to assess how the hacking affected voters’ attitudes.

At that hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and intelligence officials presented a unified front in their assessment that Moscow was behind the attacks and the intrusions present a national security threat. Trump, meanwhile, has continued to see them in personal terms, casting the issue as a matter of Democrats’ sour grapes in the wake of his victory.

Throughout the campaign, Trump emphasized his interest in improving relations with Moscow and his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin who he has praised as a strong leader who is “very smart.” That praise has puzzled observers, who point to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its attempts to destabilize US allies in Europe, particularly in the Baltic states, its harassment of US diplomats and its systematic expulsion of American NGOs in Russia.

Trump has denigrated intelligence agencies since they made their conclusions about Russia public, setting off the word “intelligence” in quotation marks to indicate his skepticism and suggesting their conclusions were politically motivated. That idea is anathema to officers who pride themselves on providing “unvarnished” and “untainted” information to policy makers, Clapper said.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers support investigations into Russia’s hacking. While Republicans want the probes to be done within committees they control in Congress, Democrats have called for an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate what happened.

California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings re-introduced a bill Friday to establish a bipartisan, 12-member commission that has the support of 170 House lawmakers. The legislation calls for the commission to examine Russia’s hacking as well as cyber intrusions by other nations and produce a report with recommendations to the President within 18 months.

Over 50,000 Americans have signed a petition released today urging Congress to create an independent commission, telling lawmakers that “regardless of whether you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, Russia’s attacks on our election are an attempt to degrade our democracy.”