President Donald Trump’s assertion on Wednesday that he believes Russian interference is “a very serious problem” that is “very close to a cyberattack” was a rare foray into the thorny debate about the nature of the cyberattacks on the US.
Trump has repeatedly denied the Russian government was responsible, but he has repeatedly raised the specter of cyberattacks during the campaign, as well as in the 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“It was very clear from the beginning that Russia interfered in the election, in my view, and I think they should be punished for that,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House on Wednesday.
“But it was clear to me before I even took office that Russia was a very serious, and you know, very significant, problem and they were interfering with our election.”
Trump did not directly address the alleged Russian interference, saying it was a “very serious problem,” but did say the cyberattack would be investigated.
He also said he wanted to be more forthcoming about the issue of Russian hacking in the campaign.
But he added: “I think they have a very, very good case, and they will do whatever they want to do.
I think we should make a statement.”
Trump’s comments came in a brief appearance on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday morning.
Trump made a similar claim on Twitter in July 2016.
“Russia is trying to influence our elections.
I want to get to the bottom of it.
Let’s get to it,” Trump tweeted.
“I want to talk to the Russians.
Let them investigate.”
The White House has said that Russia does not have direct access to the White Houses servers, but did not deny that Russia did conduct cyberattacks.
The president’s statements come after several intelligence officials have testified to Congress that they believe Russian government operatives were behind the hacks and that Russia is attempting to undermine US democracy.
In an interview with NBC News last month, then-FBI Director James Comey said he believed Russian government hacking was part of a broader effort to undermine confidence in the electoral process.
Comey said Russia “did try to influence the election to the degree that we have seen in the last year or so,” and that the evidence suggested that “at least some” of the efforts involved “spear phishing and phishing attempts.”
“I am not going to talk about the scope of that activity or the tactics, but I am saying I have seen evidence that they did try to get at some people and try to hack into their email accounts, they tried to get into their social media accounts, and their networks and their organizations,” Comey said.
We do know that Russia has been trying to meddle in the elections for quite some time, so I do think that this is a very significant issue,” he added.