Politics & Government

White House: You don’t need security clearance to figure out Russia helped Trump

The White House ran down the list of Donald Trump’s ties to Russia on Monday, defending intelligence agencies’ assessment that Moscow meddled in the election to help him win the presidency. The president-elect has called reports of Russian interference “ridiculous.”

“You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters during a briefing on Monday. “The president-elect ... called on Russia to hack his opponent. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.”

The comments came after the Central Intelligence Agency reportedly concluded that the Kremlin wasn’t intervening in the 2016 election just to undermine the U.S. electoral system, but specifically to boost Trump.

The White House on Monday said that Trump’s campaign “didn’t make any effort to obscure” his ties to Russia.

“It was the president-elect who over the course of the campaign indicated that he thought that President Putin was a strong leader. It was the president-elect who refused to disclose his financial connections to Russia,” Earnest said. “It was the president-elect who hired a campaign chairman with extensive, lucrative personal financial ties to Russia.”

He said this was not a matter of opinion, “but really just a presentation of objective facts.”

Trump has dismissed the CIA’s report.

“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!” the president-elect tweeted on Monday morning.

“Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking,” he added in another tweet. “Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”

The White House countered that it had been brought up months before November’s election, when intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee – a report that Trump similarly dismissed at the time.

“The president-elect has said one thing on Twitter, the 17 intelligence agencies of the United States came forward two months ago to put forward their unanimous assessment about Russia’s malicious cyber activity,” Earnest told reporters on Monday. “I’ll let you and the American people judge who is in a better position to defend their argument.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke with Trump on Monday and said the Senate Intelligence Committee will conduct a “complete review” of reports that Russia has interfered with U.S. elections.

“Obviously, any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing. And I strongly condemn any such efforts,” he said in a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Last week the Obama administration announced it had ordered intelligence agencies to take a “deep dive” into cyberattacks going back to 2008. Republicans in Congress, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. have also said they will look into the matter.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen