Trump in Denial as Evidence Grows Spymaster Putin Behind Election Hacks

The former KGB colonel led the cyber operations, officials say.

ByABC News
December 16, 2016, 12:42 AM

— -- With intelligence officials convinced that Russian spook-turned-president Vladimir Putin personally directed cyber-attacks aimed at interfering with the U.S. election, President-elect Donald Trump continues to downplay and dismiss growing hacking concerns as politically motivated.

The hacks saw the systems and accounts of political organizations and figures like the Democratic National Committee breached, and private data – in the most notable cases, emails – spilled out into public view.

“The primary goal of this attack on our election system was to sow chaos and apparently to help the candidate Donald Trump,” Olsen, an ABC News consultant, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, said.

President-elect Donald Trump looks on during a rally at the DeltaPlex Arena, Dec. 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But Trump is having none of it.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act?” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”

But that’s not the case, and sources say that intelligence operatives are seething that their future boss is so outwardly dismissing their work.

The Obama administration began publicly sounding the alarm well before the election.

A joint statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security in on Oct. 7 was clear: “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”

With uncharacteristic transparency, the agencies went on to say that they “believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Fast-forward two months to today, when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest went further.

“Based on my personal reading…they were referring to the senior most government official in Russia,” Earnest said.

“It was not intended to be subtle.”

The concerns weren’t just raised by the Obama administration.

Well before she lost to Trump in early November, Clinton was sounding off about Russian hackers targeting her party and staff.

“There's no doubt now that Russia has used cyber-attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald is very praise worthy of Vladimir Putin,” she said during the first presidential debate in September.

Trump angrily dismissed those concerns later in the evening, retorting “She's saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don't—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

Four days ago, Trump – now president-elect and capable of receiving classified intelligence briefings – used a similar line.

“They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News last Sunday. “I mean, they have no idea.”

Despite the incoming president’s dismissals, American authorities said on Thursday that they now have new, significant evidence proving Putin directed the cyber operation.

US officials are looking into Russia's involvement into hacking the presidential election.

“They know with a near certainty that Putin was involved – that’s not something they say lightly,” Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant who served in the administrations of Presidents Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes. “That's something they say when they do have a smoking gun.”

Trump is becoming increasingly alone in his skepticism of the intelligence community’s conclusions.

On Wednesday, leading Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) called on Trump to impose sanctions that would punish Russia for its hacking of the Democrats’ systems.

“It could be us the next time – this is not a Republican, Democratic issue,” Graham said in an interview with CNN. “My goal is to put on President Trump’s desk crippling sanctions based on the fact that they interfered in our elections.”

“They need to pay a price,” he added.

And what that price will be isn’t yet clear, though President Barack Obama has vowed action.

“That response could be through the use of treasury department sanctions, it could be covert action, it could be forms of public diplomacy,” John Carlin, the former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told ABC News. “If you mess with the United States, we will mess with you back.”

For his part, Obama is playing coy.

In an interview with NPR that was released on Thursday night, Obama said that he thinks that “there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections ... that we need to take action and we will. At a time and a place of our own choosing.

“Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be," Obama said.

ABC News’ Megan Christie, Randy Kreider, Lee Ferran, Paul Blake, Alex Hosenball, Lizzie Yang and Kalyn Wilson contributed to this report.

Related Topics