In his first press conference in half a year, Donald Trump came close to acknowledging the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had meddled in the election to benefit him, saying, “I think it was Russia.” But he quickly added that others are always trying to hack US targets and downplayed the Russian hack, asking why it received so much more attention than a Chinese cyber-attack on the US government several years ago. And when Trump was given a chance to rebut claims that his campaign team had been in communication with Russian intermediaries during the campaign, he did not deny those allegations.
At the end of the nearly hour-long press conference, Trump ignored a question from a reporter about contacts between people associated with him and Russians. The reporter asked, “Can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign? And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?”
But Trump chose only to answer the second part of the journalist’s query. “Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it,” he said. “You will see that. Russia will respect our country. He shouldn’t have done it, I don’t believe he’ll be doing it more now, we have to work something out. But it’s not just Russia.”
The press conference comes one day after CNN reported that the heads of the major US intelligence agencies had briefed Trump and President Barack Obama about claims that Moscow had mounted a secret operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump, that there were extensive communications between people close to Trump and Russians during the presidential campaign, and that Russia had collected compromising material on Trump during his travels to the country. After CNN’s story went live, BuzzFeed published a raw “dossier” of information used for that briefing, prompting a furious response from Trump during his press conference.
Both stories came months after Mother Jones first reported that a former spy working for a Western country had sent the FBI memos containing the Russian allegations.