Sour grapes. That’s how Donald Trump’s closest advisers see Democrats’ complaints that Moscow hacked their private emails this election season in a bid to sow discord among their supporters and sway the election toward Republicans.
The pushback comes ahead of the Electoral College vote, which was expected to make official Trump’s election win and pave his way to take office on Jan. 20.
“Let’s assume it’s true,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday of Russian interference in the election. “There’s no evidence that shows that the outcome of the election was changed because of a couple dozen John Podesta emails that were out there.”
The number of leaked emails by Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was actually closer to tens of thousands. And it’d be difficult to prove exactly what influenced voters.
But Democrats said it was a personal attack and a threat to democracy.
“The emails were weaponized,” said Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. “The release of stolen, hacked emails caused a lot of confusion and of course it disrupted our daily campaign life.”
Foreign policy experts say part of Russia’s calculation was likely a desire for payback for years of U.S. criticism of its own elections and to paint America as a flawed champion of democracy — potentially weakening it on the world stage.
“I would characterize it as a thinly disguised, covert operation intended to discredit the American election and to basically allow the Russians to communicate to the rest of the world that our elections are corrupt, incompetent, rigged, whatever — and therefore no more honest than anybody else’s in the world including theirs,” said Robert Gates, who was defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Gates, who is no longer in government but has met privately with Trump, said he couldn’t confirm that Russia was trying to help Trump win.
But “I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs. Clinton,” he said.
Trump’s transition team and loyalists on Capitol Hill weren’t buying it — at least not on the eve of Monday’s Electoral College vote.
“Where’s the evidence?” asked Kellyanne Conway, another close Trump adviser.
On Obama’s vow to retaliate against the Russians for hacking, Conway said: “It seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary, who can’t accept the election results.”
Trump himself weighed in Sunday evening, tweeting, “If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!”
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said an unclassified intelligence review could be released within the next two or three weeks.
As president-elect, Trump would have access to high-level intelligence on the cyberattacks, although it’s unclear what he’s been told. Trump has previously called the intelligence finding of Russian involvement “ridiculous.” On Sunday, Conway said she wasn’t privy to the same intelligence briefings as the president-elect and couldn’t say what he knows.
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