President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff accepted on Sunday that Russia was behind last year’s hacking and leaking of internal emails from top officials at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace, Reince Priebus acknowledged that Trump “accepts the fact that this particular case was entities in Russia,” but argued that the DNC should be criticized for not taking cyber security more seriously.
“I think he accepts the findings, Chris,” Priebus said of Trump. “But here’s the thing that everyone needs to understand. When this whole thing started, it started from the Russians 50 years ago. In other words, this is something that’s been going on in our elections for many, many years. The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians — it happens, every election period.”
He added: “It started way back in 2015 before either nominee of either party was chosen. And it started, and this is declassified, as a spear phishing expedition. It just so happens that the DNC had nearly no defenses on their system. And when they were warned multiple times by the FBI, they didn’t respond.”
Wallace repeatedly pushed Priebus to clarify his position, asking whether Trump still dismissed reports from US intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to tip the scales in Trump’s favor.
Priebus said that Trump was “not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular hacking campaign.”
“The primary actor is the foreign entity that’s perpetrating the crime to begin with, I’m not denying it,” Priebus said.
When asked to specify who the foreign actor was, Priebus responded bluntly.
“Russia,” he said.
For months, Trump and have been reluctant to say Russia was the source of the hacks.
Even following a high-profile intelligence meeting on the subject on Friday, Trump still hedged his response.
“While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said in a statement.
Not all of Trump’s inner circle were willing to directly acknowledge that Russia was the primary actor behind the cyber intrusions.
Asked about whether she believed Russia was behind the hacks, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN on Sunday said that “Russia, China, and others,” attempted to infiltrate networks of top American political organizations.