The Obama administration today joined the throngs of anonymous intelligence officials in saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had to have been involved in the cyberespionage operation to undermine the US election, the Associated Press reports. Not only does the White House say Putin was likely involved, but it also asserts that the Russian leader probably directly authorized the hack of the Democratic National Committee. The statements, from White House press secretary Josh Earnest, also suggest the goal was to help elect Donald Trump, who Earnest added must have known about Russia’s involvement. This follows yesterday’s report from NBC News that first surfaced the intelligence community’s claim of Putin’s involvement.
Earnest says it was “obvious” Trump knew about Russia’s plan
In a meeting with reporters, Earnest pointed to an October assessment from the US intelligence community that said “only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities." Earnest said that the language there was a subtle but important insinuation that Putin had to have been involved, calling the accusation “pretty obvious.”
Earnest also said it was obvious that Trump had knowledge of the operation, adding that the president-elect may not have been joking when he called for Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. As of yet, no US intelligence official has claimed that Russia’s operation involved tampering with votes or caused Clinton to lose the election, only that Trump was aided in part by the revelations found in the emails given to and released by WikiLeaks this past summer.
Earnest’ accusations are lacking concrete evidence, which the CIA, FBI, and other organizations have not revealed to the public. That has given room to Trump and his supporters to both discredit and deny the link drawn between the incoming president and Russia, with which the US has a complex and increasingly tense relationship. Other Washington watchers, like journalist Glenn Greenwald, have insinuated that the entire goal of intelligence operatives might be to advance an anti-Russia agenda, regardless of the true nature of the hacks. By speaking anonymously, Greenwald says, these sources are weaving a narrative that aims to serve US geopolitical interests instead of shed light on the truth.
Still, that an official representation of the Obama administration is willing to go on record claiming Putin’s involvement and Trump’s knowledge of that involvement is a serious development. When asked by the AP for comment, a representative of the Kremlin said it was “laughable nonsense” to think Putin was in any way involved with the DNC hack and the compromising of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta’s email account.
Of course, that hasn’t kept Democratic leaders from using this recent wave of headlines to denounce Russia and Putin. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Putin had to have been involved in the operation. "Having been the former head of the KGB, does that surprise you?" he told the AP. "And does it surprise anybody today when he denied it?" Meanwhile, a number of both Democrats and Republicans are calling for an official investigation into Russia’s tampering with the US election.
In response to the White House’s accusations, Trump said on Twitter that the Obama administration should have acted sooner if it really did suspect Russia in the hacks. He also called into question the veracity of the reports. “Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?,” Trump wrote. In a statement from Trump’s transition team, spokesman Jason Miller told Reuters, "I'll let the president-elect's tweets speak for themselves.”
Update 4:12PM ET, 12/15: Added Trump’s comment from Twitter and the statement from his transition team.