Cyberattacks by foreign nations had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” President-elect Donald Trump said in a statement following a briefing by senior intelligence officials on their assessment that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
While Trump conceded that “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 National Committee,” he stopped short of saying that he believes Russia was the perpetrator of the DNC breach — or that it was an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
“There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful,” Trump said in the statement.
Trump called the meeting “constructive,” noting that he has “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.”
Trump’s reaction to the briefing has been hotly watched as a barometer for whether he will accept the overwhelming conclusion of the intelligence community that Moscow attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly rejected that assessment, treating any such reports as an attack on the legitimacy of his victory. He called the furor over the hacks a “witch hunt” carried out by defeated Democrats in an interview with The New York Times on Friday morning.
He has been outspokenly critical of the intelligence community’s findings, tweeting, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
In a series of tweets this week, he accused intelligence officials of delaying the briefing until Friday in order to build a case against Russia — an allegation rejected by other officials. Trump also appeared to side with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who released stolen emails believed to have been hacked by Russia. Trump noted Assange’s assertions that the emails did not come from Russia, while claiming that anyone could have hacked the DNC.
Senior intelligence officials have said publicly that there is no way to judge the impact of the hacks on the final vote tally. Trump noted in his statement that there was no tampering with physical voting machines.
“They didn’t change any vote tallies,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers Thursday.
“We have no way of gauging the impact that — certainly the intelligence community can’t — the choices that the electorate made. There’s no way for us to gauge,” Clapper said.
Trump’s statement also called for the U.S. to do more to combat cyberattacks, saying that he will appoint a team to provide “a plan” within 90 days of his inauguration.
“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.
The White House is imminently expected to release a declassified version of a recently completed intelligence report into Russian interference. President Obama received the full, classified version of the document Thursday and the so-called Gang of Eight in Congress reviewed it Friday. The public version could be released as soon as Friday afternoon.