Trump Defends Putin: “Intel briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed”
Before he took office, the intelligence community specifically briefed President Donald Trump on Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.
Once he became the official Republican nominee, Trump was entitled to receive intelligence briefings throughout the last several months of the campaign. The first of these briefings occurred on August 17, 2016, and included information about the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s servers. According to NBC News, the briefing highlighted “direct links” between the Russian government and the ongoing leaks of emails from the DNC. Nevertheless, Trump continued to publicly cast doubt on the idea that Russia had carried out the attack.
During the transition, the intelligence community also briefed Trump on their January 6 report on Russia’s interference in the election. Prior to the briefing, on Tuesday, January 3, Trump tweeted that “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” However, NBC News subsequently reported that the briefing had always been scheduled for that Friday, January 6. Trump also called The New York Times on January 6, giving an interview in which he called the investigation into Russian hacking a “political witch hunt” by his adversaries.
On January 6, the same day the intelligence community released its declassified report to the public, the heads of the NSA, FBI, CIA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence jointly briefed Trump for two hours in Trump Tower. The intelligence community leaders provided Trump with the classified version of their findings confirming that Putin had directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing him in the Oval Office. During the meeting, Trump reportedly asked FBI Director James Comey to publicly announce that Trump himself was not under investigation.
After the briefing, Trump released a statement that seemed to once again cast doubt on the importance of the intelligence community’s findings, saying, “While Russia, China, other countries, other groups and people are constantly trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses, and organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, there was no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.” That night, at 11 p.m., Trump took to Twitter to blame Democrats for having been attacked, writing, “Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!” The statement contradicted the intelligence community report, which notes that “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign,” and Comey’s disclosure in congressional testimony a few days later that Russia had, in fact, hacked into the RNC as well.