Using language conveying contempt, President-elect Donald Trump’s office late Friday dismissed any move to look into alleged Russian meddling in the November election, hours after the White House said it had ordered intelligence agencies to take a “deep dive” into the matter.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” a statement from Trump’s transition office said.
“The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history,” it went on. “It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”
Trump’s statement was released as the Washington Post reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has told key senators that Russia wasn’t just trying to undermine confidence in the election but was actually moving to favor Trump.
The Post reported that the CIA had identified “individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.”
The Trump statement made no mention of the Post report, but it appeared to be trying to attack its credibility with its reference to Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. The CIA and other intelligence agencies were widely criticized for providing unreliable information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that President George W. Bush used to argue for the invasion of that country in 2003.
The statement capped a day in which a top White House adviser acknowledged that President Barack Obama had ordered a “full review” of alleged Russian meddling in the vote, but indicated the report may not be made public. U.S. intelligence analysts will finish the report before Obama leaves office Jan. 20, said Lisa Monaco, the adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco.
The issue of possible Russian interference in the election simmers on Capitol Hill, and the announcement had brought a bipartisan sprinkling of positive responses, although several legislators have called for the White House to reveal publicly more of what it knows.
A handful of Republican senators plan hearings on the matter in 2017, putting them on a collision course with Trump, who says he wants to work more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an unusual coincidence of views, both the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member of the House intelligence panel called for more forceful responses to Moscow.
If the White House doesn’t take action, said Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member, “we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who chairs the intelligence committee, said Obama had “ignored pleas … to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression.”
Monaco, speaking at a newsmakers’ breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor, opened the session saying the administration’s policy is to “impose costs” on outside forces who use digital weapons to harm the United States and employ “all elements of national power against the cyber threat.”
She noted the “malicious cyber activity” that occurred during the campaign, but was cautious in directly addressing Russia’s role.
“The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process and to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders to include Congress,” Monaco said.
Later at the White House, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said the review “is going to be a deep dive.”
He the review was not an effort to challenge the outcome of the vote, which the White House previously affirmed was “free and fair” and reflected the will of American voters.
He said the intelligence review would span the presidential election cycles of 2008, 2012 and 2016, and said the analysis would be “broad and deep at the same time.”
We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after action, to understand what this means.
Lisa Monaco, White House adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism
Monaco suggested high sensitivity to what would be released because of a need to be “very attentive to not disclose any sources and methods that may impede our ability to identify and attribute such attacks in the future.”
Schultz echoed those concerns: “We’re going to make public as much as we can. As you can imagine, something like this might include sensitive and even classified information. When that report is submitted, we’re going to take a look. We want to brief Congress and the relevant stakeholders, possible state directors.”
The government Oct. 7 officially accused Russia of hacking emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Those emails turned up on WikiLeaks, a group dedicated to releasing secret government documents. The leak led to the resignation of the DNC chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Throughout the month of October, WikiLeaks released nearly daily batches of emails hacked from the account of the chair of the Hillary Clinton campaign, John Podesta, drawing considerable media attention.
In the run-up to the Nov. 8 vote, hackers are also believed to have tried to penetrate election systems in Arizona and Illinois.
During the campaign, Trump urged Russian hackers to target Clinton and search for emails missing from her home server. But he also has dismissed Russia’s alleged role, declaring that the hacker “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
In a recent interview with Time magazine, Trump went further, saying, "I don't believe they interfered."
For her part, Clinton directly blamed Russia for the hacking and in a debate with Trump Oct. 19 demanded that he condemn Russia.
“This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government, clearly from Putin himself, in an effort – as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed – to influence our election,” Clinton said.
After the vote, the White House dismissed any impact from hacking.
“We stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people,” a White House statement said on Nov. 25. While the White House did say the election itself was unaffected, it hasn’t addressed whether it believes there was a substantive impact from the constant leaks of internal emails dating back to before the Democratic convention in late July.
In the meeting with reporters, Monaco noted that Chinese agents hacked into the Obama campaign in 2008, and suggested that election meddling by foreign powers may be part of a persistent new reality.
“We may have crossed into a new threshold, and it is incumbent upon us to take stock of that, to review, to conduct some after action, to understand what this means, what has happened, and to impart lessons learned,” she said.
Vera Bergengruen contributed to this report.