Pres­i­dent min­i­mizes al­le­ga­tions of hack­ing

White House wants to “move for­ward ... with Rus­sia”

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Philip Rucker

WASH­ING­TON» Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sun­day sought to move past al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion, ef­fec­tively dis­miss­ing the im­por­tance of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sion about a for­eign ad­ver­sary in pur­suit of a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Is­su­ing his first pub­lic com­ments since sit­ting down with Putin in Ger­many, Trump vowed to “move for­ward in work­ing con­struc­tively with Rus­sia,” and said the two lead­ers were form­ing a cy­ber­se­cu­rity unit to pro­tect against the kinds of il­le­gal in­tru­sions that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say Putin or­dered in the United States.

Af­ter Putin de­nied any such elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence in his meet­ing with Trump, the U.S. pres­i­dent tried to turn the page al­to­gether on the is­sue of Rus­sian hack­ing. As Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III in­ves­ti­gates Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence and pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials, Trump has re­peat­edly la­beled the is­sue a “hoax” and has por­trayed it as a dark cloud un­fairly hang­ing over his first six months as pres­i­dent.

Trump’s pledge to part­ner with Putin drew swift and stern de­nun­ci­a­tions from Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can of­fi­cials, who cast the U.S. pres­i­dent as dan­ger­ously naive for trust­ing his Rus­sian coun­ter­part and said Rus­sia must be forced to pay a price for its elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice about Rus­sian med­dling and that Putin “ve­he­mently de­nied it.” Trump did not say whether he ac­cepted Putin’s de­nial, say­ing only, “I’ve al­ready given my opin­ion.”

Trump de­liv­ered his ac­count of the meet­ing with Putin, held last Fri­day on the side­lines of the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, via a se­ries of de­fi­ant tweets fired off Sun­day morn­ing from the White House, just be­fore vis­it­ing his North­ern Vir­ginia golf course — as op­posed to a news con­fer­ence like the one Putin held with jour­nal­ists on Satur­day.

Putin, as well as Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, said that Trump be­lieved Putin’s as­sur­ances that Rus­sia did not in­ter­fere in the elec­tion. “It seemed to me that he took it into ac­count, and agreed,” Putin told re­porters on Satur­day, though he added, “you should ask him.”

Ini­tially, U.S. of­fi­cials trav­el­ing with Trump would not dis­pute Putin and Lavrov’s ac­counts when asked by re­porters. On Sun­day, how­ever, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who re­mained in Wash­ing­ton dur­ing the trip, re­jected the Rus­sian char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

“It’s not true,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sun­day.” “The pres­i­dent ab­so­lutely did not be­lieve the de­nial of Pres­i­dent Putin.”

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have con­cluded defini­tively that Rus­sian author­i­ties tried to in­flu­ence the elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor with il­le­gal hack­ing and pro­pa­ganda and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Trump’s pub­lic com­ments on the is­sue have been far less de­fin­i­tive, vary­ing widely from tepid ac­knowl­edg­ment to out­right doubt about Rus­sia’s role. Un­der ques­tion­ing from Fox host Chris Wal­lace, Priebus also showed vary­ing de­grees of cer­tainty about whether Trump be­lieves Rus­sia med­dled in the elec­tion.

“He said they prob­a­bly med­dled in the elec­tion. They did med­dle in the elec­tion,” Priebus said, seem­ing to grow more de­fin­i­tive. But then Priebus seemed to back off: “Yes, he be­lieves that Rus­sia prob­a­bly com­mit­ted all of these acts that we’ve been told of. But he also be­lieves that other coun­tries also par­tic­i­pated in this ac­tiv­ity.”

Trump on Sun­day re­vealed his con­tin­ued fix­a­tion with some as­pects of the Rus­sia is­sue. He falsely ac­cused for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama of do­ing “NOTH­ING” af­ter learn­ing of the Rus­sian hack­ing be­fore the elec­tion. In fact, on Oct. 7, about a month be­fore the elec­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for­mally and pub­licly blamed Rus­sia for the hack­ing, though some Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have since said they re­gret not re­spond­ing more.

John Bren­nan, who served as CIA di­rec­tor un­der Obama and ran the agency’s re­sponse to Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, chas­tised Trump on Sun­day for re­peat­edly cast­ing doubt on the con­clu­sions of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing at a news con­fer­ence last week in Poland.

“I se­ri­ously ques­tion whether or not Mr. Putin heard from Mr. Trump what he needed to about the as­sault on our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions,” Bren­nan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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