White House blames Putin

The ad­min­is­tra­tion vows re­tal­i­a­tion, says Trump had to know.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bradley Klapper and Josh Lederman

wash­ing­ton» The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sug­gested Thurs­day that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin per­son­ally au­tho­rized the hack­ing of Demo­cratic of­fi­cials’ e-mail ac­counts in the runup to the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and said it was “fact” that such ac­tions helped Don­ald Trump’s campaign. The White House also as­sailed Trump, say­ing he must have known of Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence.

No proof was of­fered for any of the ac­cu­sa­tions, the lat­est to un­set­tle Amer­ica’s un­easy tran­si­tion from eight years un­der Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to a new Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion led by Trump.

Obama, in an in­ter­view that will air Fri­day on Na­tional Pub­lic Ra-

dio, said the United States will re­tal­i­ate against Rus­sia over the ma­li­cious cy­ber­ac­tiv­ity.

“I think there is no doubt that when any for­eign gov­ern­ment tries to im­pact the in­tegrity of our elec­tions ... we need to take ac­tion,” the pres­i­dent said. “And we will — at a time and place of our own choos­ing. Some of it may be ex­plicit and pub­li­cized; some of it may not be.”

The claims of Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion also have height­ened de­bil­i­tat­ing ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other dis­agree­ments.

“Only Rus­sia’s se­nior­most of­fi­cials could have au­tho­rized these ac­tiv­i­ties,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, re­peat­ing the words from an Oc­to­ber U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment.

Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Ben Rhodes, con­nected the dots fur­ther, say­ing it was Putin who was re­spon­si­ble for the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions.

“I don’t think things hap­pen in the Rus­sian gov­ern- ment of this con­se­quence without Vladimir Putin know­ing about it,” Rhodes said on MSNBC.

The ex­plo­sive ac­cu­sa­tion paints Putin, the leader of per­haps the United States’ great­est geopo­lit­i­cal foe, as hav­ing di­rectly un­der­mined U.S. democ­racy. U.S. of­fi­cials have not con­tended, how­ever, that Trump would have been de­feated by Hil­lary Clin­ton on Nov. 8 if not for Rus­sia’s as­sis­tance. Nor has there has been any in­di­ca­tion of tam­per­ing with the vote-count­ing.

The Krem­lin flatly re­jected the claim of Putin’s in­volve­ment, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dis­miss­ing it Thurs­day as “laugh­able non­sense.”

The dis­pute over Rus­sia’s role is fu­el­ing an in­creas­ingly pub­lic spat be­tween Obama’s White House and Trump’s team that is threat­en­ing to spoil the del­i­cate truce that Obama and Trump have forged since Elec­tion Day.

Although the pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent-elect have avoided crit­i­ciz­ing each other pub­licly since Trump’s win, their aides have been more openly an­tag­o­nis­tic. Kellyanne Con­way, Trump’s se­nior tran­si­tion ad­viser, said it was “breath­tak­ing” and ir­re­spon­si­ble that the White House had sug­gested Trump knew Rus­sia was in­ter­fer­ing to help his campaign.

That led Earnest on Thurs­day to un­load, ar­gu­ing that Trump, who has dis­missed the CIA’s as­sess­ment of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, should spend less time at­tack­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and more time sup­port­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that Obama has ordered.

Earnest said it was “ob­vi­ous” Trump knew what Rus­sia was do­ing dur­ing the campaign, point­ing out that Trump had en­cour­aged Moscow dur­ing a news con­fer­ence to find Clin­ton’s miss­ing e-mails. Trump has said he was jok­ing.

“I don’t think any­body at the White House thinks it’s funny that an ad­ver­sary of the United States en­gaged in ma­li­cious cy­ber ac­tiv­ity to desta­bi­lize our democ­racy,” Earnest said. “That’s not a joke.”

U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have linked the hack­ing to Rus­sia’s in­tel­li­gence agency and its mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence di­vi­sion. Moscow has de­nied all ac­cu­sa­tions that it or­ches­trated the hack­ing of e-mail ac­counts of Demo­cratic Party of­fi­cials and Clin­ton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, and leaked them to the anti-se­crecy web­site Wik­iLeaks.

Trump and his sup­port­ers in­sist the Democrats’ out­rage about Rus­sia is an at­tempt to un­der­mine the va­lid­ity of his elec­tion vic­tory. Rep. Peter King, a Trump ally and New York Repub­li­can, called it “dis­grace­ful” as he spoke to re­porters amassed in Trump Tower af­ter meet­ing with the pres­i­dent-elect.

“Right now, cer­tain el­e­ments of the me­dia, cer­tain el­e­ments of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and cer­tain politi­cians are re­ally do­ing the work of the Rus­sians,” King said.

Still, Democrats pounced on the lat­est sug­ges­tions of Putin be­ing con­nected to the daily drip of e-mails dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race from some of Clin­ton’s clos­est ad­vis­ers.

Putin was “clearly in­volved,” said out­go­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid. “Hav­ing been the for­mer head of the KGB, does that sur­prise you?” Reid said. “And does it sur­prise any­body to­day when he de­nied it?”

Reid’s com­ments echoed those of Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein of Cal­i­for­nia, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, who said Wed­nes­day it’s hard to think that Putin didn’t know about the op­er­a­tion. She called sug­ges­tions that he was aware of the hack­ing “very cred­i­ble.”

There has been no spe­cific, per­sua­sive ev­i­dence shared pub­licly about the ex­tent of Putin’s role or knowl­edge of the hack­ings. That lack of proof un­der­cuts Democrats’ strat­egy to por­tray Putin’s in­volve­ment as ir­refutable ev­i­dence of a di­rected Rus­sian gov­ern­ment plot to un­der­mine Amer­ica’s demo­cratic sys­tem.

Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry de­fended Obama’s han­dling of the is­sue dur­ing the heat of the pres­i­den­tial campaign — a stance now crit­i­cized by some Democrats as too weak — but said he wouldn’t com­ment on whether Putin was in­volved.

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