By Kathleen Hennessey
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s order to intelligence officials for a full-scale review of campaign-season cyberattacks met with a cool reception from President-elect Donald Trump, whose transition team said it’s “time to move on.”
Trump has been repeatedly dismissive of the intelligence community’s determination that Russia sought through hacking to disrupt the U.S. election, and Obama’s new initiative was similarly brushed off at Trump Tower.
Trump’s transition office issued a statement reflecting the deep divisions that emerged between his campaign and the intelligence agencies over Russian meddling. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement said. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
The investigation ordered by Obama will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyber activity” timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said last Friday, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign. It will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.
The president ordered up the report earlier in the week asked that it be completed before he leaves office next month, Schultz said.
“The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”
The Washington Post reported Friday that the CIA has concluded that Russia aimed specifically to help Trump win the presidency.
The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations.
In the months leading up to the election, email accounts of Democratic Party officials and a top Hillary Clinton campaign aide were breached, emails leaked and embarrassing and private emails posted online. Many Democrats believe the hackings benefited Trump’s bid.
Schultz said the president sought the probe as a way of improving U.S. defense against cyberattacks and was not intending to question the legitimacy of Trump’s victory.
“This is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election,” Schultz said.
Obama’s move comes as Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Obama to declassify more information about Russia’s role, fearing that Trump, who has promised a warmer relationship with Moscow, may not prioritize the issue.
Given Trump’s statements, “there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee. If the administration doesn’t respond “forcefully” to such actions, “we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future,” he said.
The White House said it would make portions of the report public and would brief lawmakers and relevant state officials on the findings.
It emphasized the report would not focus solely on Russian operations or hacks involving Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Democratic National Committee accounts. Schultz stressed officials would be reviewing incidents going back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when the campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Obama were breached by hackers.
Intelligence officials have said Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were targets of Chinese cyberattacks four years later.