Since the cybersecurity community last summer pointed to the Russian government as the culprit behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee, reasonable people have disagreed with that finding. Even after US intelligence agencies came to the same conclusion with “high confidence,” skeptics have called on those agencies to reveal more of the evidence that linked that political attack to the Kremlin.
The man who’s about to lead those intelligence agencies, meanwhile, hasn’t called for more evidence to be made public, or demanded an investigation, as have several of his Republican colleagues in Congress. Instead, president-elect Donald Trump has come to his own conclusions about the source of the attack. First, it was the Democrats themselves. Later, he said it could be Russia, but it could also be China, or it could be somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds, OK?
He’s said Russian hackers probably accessed Hillary Clinton’s emails, and hoped they would release them. At times, he’s argued no one knows who hacked the DNC. Most recently, he’s said he possesses information about the hacking that he knows, but other people don’t, and that he would release it by Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, Trump wavered again, implying that his promised revelation was delayed because his intelligence briefing on the hacking incidents had been moved to Friday. (NBC News reported that briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.) Then, in another tweet Wednesday morning, he promoted a claim from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that the secret-spilling group’s source wasn’t the Russian government, accepting that claim without evidence while doubting his own classified intelligence briefings to the contrary.
All of that, according to critics in the intelligence and cybersecurity world trying to keep up with Trump’s head fakes, shows an incoming president who doesn’t merely disagree with his own intelligence agencies and the cybersecurity community, but actuallydoesn’t want to learnthe truth. “These arent the statements of someone whos interested in getting to the bottom of this,” says Susan Hennessey, a former NSA lawyer and current fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Its almost as if hes uninterested in the truth because he doesnt care if it happened or not. He doesnt see the value in understanding anything thats not politically useful to him.”
He doesnt see the value in understanding anything thats not politically useful to him.Former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey
To be clear, the question of Russia’s involvement in the hack of the DNC, as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the emails of Clinton campaign staffer John Podesta, hasn’t yet been settled.President Obama has called on intelligence agencies to deliver a report that lays out the evidence fortheir findings, which is expected Friday.
But inthe meantime, here’s a brief history of all the strange, sometimes absurd and often contradictory comments Donald Trump has made about the most controversial hacker attack in recent memory.
June 15, 2016: A day after the Washington Post breaks the news that the Democratic National Committee has been hacked, allegedly by Russian spies, Trump’s team issues a statement: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.” On the same day, a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 says he’s given the hacked emails to WikiLeaks, and also publishes them himself, complete with telltale Russian-language formatting errors.
July 27, 2016: In a news conference, Trump addresses the Russian hacking scandal: “They hacked—they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do,” he says. “Russia, if youre listening, I hope youre able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
September 26, 2016: In the first presidential debate: “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?” Weeks earlier, according to NBC News, both Trump and Clinton had been given classified briefings by intelligence agencies that included “extensive” information about the hacking incidents, which implicated Russia.
October 10, 2016: Days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence release a unanimous assessment that the hacking incidents were authorized by “Russia’s senior-most officials,” Trump questions in the second presidential debate whether any hacking occurred at all. “I notice, any time anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians,” he says. “Well, [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.”
October 20, 2016: In the third presidential debate:
Trump: [Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else.
Clinton: I am not quoting myself.
Trump: You have no idea.
Clinton: I am quoting seventeen, seventeen[US intelligence agencies.] Do you doubt…
Trump: Our country has no idea.
December 7, 2016: In an interview with Time Magazine after his election, Trump reiterates, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
December 9, 2016: The Washington Post reports that the CIA believes the Russian government hacked the DNC with the explicit intention of helping Trump win the election. Trump’s transition team responds in a short statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” Trump has at this point taken multiple presidential briefings from the intelligence agencies.
December 11, 2016: Trump tells Fox News: Nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don’t catch them in the act you’re not going to catch them.” Breach remediation firm Crowdstrike points out that it did in fact catch the hackers “in the act,” monitoring their activities inside the DNC network for weeks. A few days later, an FBI official tells the Associated Press the bureau now backs the CIA’s assessment that Russia hacked the DNC to help elect Trump.
December 29, 2016: Obama imposes new sanctions on Russia and ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the US. Trump writes in a statement that Its time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”
December 31, 2016: Trump again doubts the intelligence agencies in a news conference in Florida: I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people dont know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation. He says he’ll reveal something about the hacking incidents on Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.
January 3, 2016: Trump tweets that his intelligence briefing on the Russian hacking evidence has been postponed.
The "Intelligence" briefing on so-called "Russian hacking" was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
NBC News reports the briefing had always been scheduled for Friday.
January 4, 2016: Trump tweets:
Julian Assange said "a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta" – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
The statement conflates the hack of Clinton staffer John Podesta with the hack of the DNC. The DNC hack was believed to have used more sophisticated malware rather than the phishing attack that stole Podesta’s email password. Trump adds that the DNC should have had “hacking defense” like the Republican National Committee, ignoring a report from the New York Times that the Republican National Committee was also breached by hackers.
January 5, 2016: Trump tweets:
So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What is going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2017
At this point, NBC News had reported that the FBI said they had already captured the necessary forensic data via “upstream” intelligence, a term that refers to capturing data in transit.
January 6, 2016: After a briefing by the heads of the NSA, FBI, CIA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Trump offers a mealy-mouthed statement that neither confirmed nor denies that Russia hacked the DNC. “While Russia, China, other countries, other groups and people are constantly trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our government institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee,” Trump’s statement reads, “there was no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
No intelligence official, to be clear, had claimed hackers tampered with voting machines. But from Trump, any statement that leaves out the 400-pound hacker, the guy in New Jersey and even concedes the attack took place may be the closest we’ll get to the truth.1
1Updated 1/6/2017 3:40pm EST with new comments from Trump.