WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump acknowledged the possibility on Friday that Russia had hacked a variety of U.S. targets, including the Democratic National Committee, after an almost two-hour meeting with the nation’s top intelligence officials.
Trump asserted the hacking had no effect on the outcome of the election.
In a statement issued after the president-elect was briefed by senior U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, Trump said: “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyberinfrastructure 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.”
For months, Trump had publicly resisted any suggestion that Russia was involved in cyberattacks during the 2016 presidential election and had mocked the intelligence agencies behind assessments on Russian hacking. After Friday’s briefing, he said he has “tremendous respect” for the people who work for U.S. spy agencies.
But just hours before, the president-elect had attributed claims of Russian hacking to embarrassed election-year rivals, calling the storm surrounding the cyberattacks a political witch hunt being carried out by his adversaries, who he said were embarrassed by their loss to him in the election last year.
Trump spoke to The New York Times by telephone three hours before he was set to be briefed by the nation’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials about the Russian hacking of U.S. political institutions. In the conversation, he repeatedly criticized the intense focus on Russia.
“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.”
In congressional testimony Thursday, intelligence officials rejected Trump’s longstanding skepticism about Russia’s cyberactivities and told lawmakers they had unanimously concluded that the Russian government used hacking and leaks of information to influence the U.S. election.
James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Trump’s comments were “disparaging” and bad for morale at the nation’s spy agencies. He said that “our assessment now is even more resolute” about the Russian hacking.