The New York Times is reporting that, in spite of spending a year and a half undermining the US intelligence community and promoting the possibility that the election interference could have been done by a number of countries, President Trump was informed before he was inaugurated that Putin himself had ordered the cyber attack during the election.
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.
Trump was briefed by John Brennan, CIA director, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, and Mike Rogers, director of National Security. FBI director James Comey also attended and privately briefed Trump about the Steele dossier after the meeting. In the two hour meeting at Trump Tower, then President-elect Trump was briefed on the evidence that convinced the intelligence community that Russia, and Putin, were responsible for the cyber attack and how they did it, the New York Times reports.
According to nearly a dozen people who either attended the meeting with the president-elect or were later briefed on it, the four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference.
They included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been seen in Russian military intelligence networks by the British, Dutch and American intelligence services. Officers of the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the G.R.U. had plotted with groups like WikiLeaks on how to release the email stash.
And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role.
That included one particularly valuable source, who was considered so sensitive that Mr. Brennan had declined to refer to it in any way in the Presidential Daily Brief during the final months of the Obama administration, as the Russia investigation intensified.
Trump issued a statement after the briefing 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.” Later that evening he tweeted, “Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!”
Since that meeting, Donald Trump has consistently called the investigation into the Russian attack a “witch hunt” and offered positions that conflict with the Intelligence Community Assessment findings backed by the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia’s intent was to help Trump get elected, Dan Coats’ statement from last week in which he said that the threats are “blinking red” and called Russia the “most aggressive foreign actor, no question,” Department of Homeland Security’s statement that at least 21 states were impacted by the Russian cyber attack and the recent indictment of 12 Russian military officers in which it was revealed they hacked a state election board website and stole information on 500,000 voters.
This week alone the president has offered conflicting positions. When he was answering questions in the joint press conference beside Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump answered a question about whether he asked Putin about election interference by saying:
“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.
I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be…
So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
The next day, facing backlash, the president walked his comments back saying that he “misspoke”, that he meant to say, “would not” instead of “would”. He then added, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump was asked if Russia was still targeting the US election system. He replied “no.” The White House now says he was responding to a different question. Later on Wednesday, he did an interview with CBS News in which he did blame Putin, but as president of Russia, not for being directly responsible for directing the attack as Trump was informed of as being the case two weeks before his inauguration.
“Certainly, as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yeah,” Trump said.
Asked if Putin lied, Trump said, “I don’t want to get into whether or not he’s lying. I can only say I have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted.”
Why It Matters
The Times points out that Trump has expressed confidence in the intelligence people briefing him, not the content of their findings. This whole time, Donald Trump has known that, overwhelmingly, the intelligence community has had reason to believe that Putin himself ordered the cyber attack on our election system to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump get elected. They showed him the proof, before he was even inaugurated.
Since then he has consistently attacked the people investigating Russia’s role in the attack. And put forth the idea the attack could have come from any number of hostile countries and has done so as recently as Tuesday, July 17.
The Times references an aid close to Trump who says the president fears that admitting the Russians attempted to influence the election would raise questions about his legitimacy as president. However, increasingly, the American people are wondering if his performance in Helsinki show that the President of the United States is a puppet of Putin and a Russian asset. And his conduct, both this week and for the last year and a half, give us little reason to think otherwise.