President Donald Trump on Saturday downplayed a massive cyberattack on US federal government agencies, contradicting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s public remarks directly linking the hack to Russia and leaving administration officials scrambling to reconcile the competing statements, CNN reports.
At least six government departments were hacked in an attack Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed was “pretty clearly” the work of Russian intelligence operatives.
“This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Pompeo had said of the cyber hack in an interview Friday on “The Mark Levin Show.”
He added: “I can’t say much more as we’re still unpacking precisely what it is, and I’m sure some of it will remain classified.”
“The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality,” Trump tweeted. “I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!).”
Trump also used his first public comments on the cyber intrusion to suggest the hack may have been carried out against his own election campaign, although no evidence of this has been reported by the media or been included in any of the legal challenges filed by his attorneys.
“There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA,” Trump tweeted, tagging director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and Pompeo.
….discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA. @DNI_Ratcliffe @SecPompeo
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020
The hack, which entered government systems through targeted third-party software contractor SolarWinds, blindsided the U.S. government and laid bare both cyber vulnerabilities throughout the government’s systems and Russia’s aggressive posture in cyberspace.
“We shouldn’t have been surprised, the Russians are very sophisticated, they are very dedicated and relentless, and this appeared to be a soft target they were able to exploit,” Christopher Painter, the former State Department cybersecurity coordinator under both the Trump and Obama administrations, told The Hill on Friday.
“White House officials had drafted a statement assigning blame to Russia for the attack and were preparing to release it Friday afternoon but were told to stand down, according to people familiar with the plans. Officials initially weren’t told why the statement was pulled back,” CNN reported Saturday. “The statement, the people said, placed blame on Russia for orchestrating the attack but left open the possibility that other actors were involved.”