President–elect Donald Trump met Friday afternoon with top intelligence officials, who briefed him on the role they believe Russia played in cyberattacks related to the U.S. presidential election.
Trump released a statement following the meeting, calling the talks “constructive” and emphasizing that he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of [the intelligence] community to our great nation.”
The president-elect has repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment that the Russian government was behind hacking efforts targeting the Democratic National Committee, and he has accused intelligence officials of arriving at conclusions that were politically motivated.
On Friday, Trump listed Russia as one of several entities that could have been behind the theft and release of thousands of DNC emails. But he stopped short of singling out the nation whose autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin, Trump greatly admires.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat [sic] 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,” Trump said.
Trump’s conclusion that the cyberattacks didn’t affect the election outcome appears to be based on his own calculus, rather than what intelligence officials told him during the briefing. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee this week that although the intelligence community does not believe any vote tallies were changed by hacked voting machines, he could not “gauge the impact [the hacks] had on the choices the electorate made.”
Leaks from FBI and CIA officials reveal that both agencies believe Russian meddling in the election was aimed, in part, at boosting Trump’s chances of winning the election. Clapper said on Thursday that the forthcoming intelligence report identified multiple motives for the cyberattack.
“There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful,” Trump noted, in an apparent effort to push back against the idea that Moscow intervened on his behalf.
Anonymous administration officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post last year that Russia hacked the RNC, as well as the DNC, but simply decided not to release any documents from the Republicans’ emails.
House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in September that the RNC was hacked, but later claimed he had misspoken. The RNC denies that it was compromised.
Trump said he would appoint a team of people to come up with a plan to combat cyberattacks, but that the details of any such plans would be closely guarded.
“The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm,” he said.