President Donald Trump used a July 6 overseas press conference to offer a murky assessment of whether the Russian government mounted a cyber campaign during the 2016 election. While Trump expressed skepticism of the U.S. intelligence community's consensus that Russia sought to undermine the integrity of the election process, he also blasted former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to retaliate.
The press conference occurred during Trump's visit with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw en route to the Group of 20 summit in Germany. The president was queried by reporters on whether he believed Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, the Washington Post reports.
"I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries," Trump said. "I won't be specific. I think a lot of people interfere. I think it's been happening for a long time."
The president added: "Nobody really knows for sure."
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government hacked into the private communications of both major U.S. political parties, disseminated some of that information to undermine former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and even attempted to breach statewide election systems.
On Jan. 6, the CIA, FBI and NSA released a joint report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the cyber espionage, according to CBS News.
"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election," the report stated. "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."
Trump cast doubt on the intelligence community's findings, citing the events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq: "When I was sitting back listening about Iraq ... weapons of mass destruction, how everybody was 100 percent sure," Trump continued. "They were wrong, and it led to a mess."
Despite downplaying the consensus that Russia sought to undermine the election, the president accused his predecessor of not doing enough to curb the Russian cyber campaign.
"Why did [Obama] do nothing about it?" Trump said. "He was told it was Russia by the CIA, as I understand it. He did nothing about it. They say he choked. Well, I don't think he choked. I think what happened is he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election and he thought: 'Well, let's not do anything about it.'"
In August 2016, Obama was given a top-secret dossier by the CIA containing evidence that Putin had directly ordered Russian hackers to meddle during the election. The Obama administration first attempted to issue a bipartisan warning about the influence campaign, but had to scuttle that plan after the Senate majority leader, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told officials that he was unconvinced of the intelligence.
In December 2016, Obama issued a modest package of sanctions, expelled 35 Russian operatives from the U.S., and shut down two Russian compounds in response to the Russian government's conduct during the election.
The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, swiftly blasted Trump for his comments.
"This is not putting America first, but continuing to propagate his personal fiction at the country's expense," Schiff said in a statement, according to The Daily Beast. "President Trump must have the courage to raise the issue of Russian interference in our elections directly with President Putin, otherwise the Kremlin will conclude he is too weak to stand up to them. That would be a historic mistake, with damaging implications for our foreign policy for years to come."
On July 7, Trump will hold his first bilateral meeting with Putin during the G20 summit.