In a tweet about Russia’s interference in the 2016 president campaign, President Donald Trump falsely claimed that he “never said Russia did not meddle in the election.”
Before and after the Nov. 8, 2016, election, Trump has expressed the opinion that Russia did not hack the Democratic National Committee’s computers. “I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump told Time magazine during a Nov. 28, 2016, interview. In a Jan. 3, 2017 tweet, Trump dismissively referred to the cyber attack on the DNC as the “so-called ‘Russian hacking’.”
When he did acknowledge that Russia may have hacked into the DNC computers, Trump cast doubt on how the U.S. could ever know for sure who was responsible for the hacking. Claiming he knows “something about hacking,” Trump told CBS News on April 29, 2017, that “if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking.”
Trump made his revisionist remarks about his past comments on Russia in one of a series of tweets over two days, beginning on the evening of Feb. 17. That was the day after the special counsel’s office issued an indictment charging 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations with illegally interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The indictment alleged the defendants used the names of U.S. citizens and companies to illegally fund political advertising and political rallies. These illegal campaign activities were part of a larger “influence campaign” orchestrated by Russia during the 2016 campaign, according to a declassified intelligence report released Jan. 6, 2017. Among other things, the report said Russian intelligence services hacked into the DNC computers and released hacked material to WikiLeaks and other outlets “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”
Trump denied or doubted Russia’s involvement in the hacking from the first day that it became public in June 2016.
As we write in “Timeline of Russia Investigation,” the Washington Post reported on June 14, 2016, that Russian hackers had gained access to the DNC’s servers.
A day later, a person or group calling itself Guccifer 2.0 took credit in a blog post for hacking the DNC computers and released a few documents, including the Democratic Party’s 200-page opposition research report on Trump. That same day, Trump issued a statement saying, “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.”
Now, he claims that he “never said Russia did not meddle in the election.”
I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
It’s true that Trump has said that the computer hacker “may be Russia, or China or another country or group.” It’s also true, as we have written, that there is no evidence that any other country or group was involved in the hack — just Russia.
It’s false, however, that Trump “never said Russia did not meddle in the election.” He alternately claimed that Russia did not or may not have interfered in the election — sometimes in the same interviews.
Here we recount, in Trump’s own words, what he has said about the role of Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, taken in part from our timeline and other stories we have done on the subject:
June 14 — The Washington Post reports that Russian hackers had gained access to the DNC’s servers. It is the first public disclosure of the security breach.
June 15 — CrowdStrike, a computer security firm hired by the DNC to investigate the hacking, says that Russia is behind the cyberattack. In a blog post on its website, CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch says that the company “immediately identified two sophisticated adversaries on the network – COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR.” He writes that “both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.”
Guccifer 2.0 takes credit in a blog post for hacking the DNC computers and releases a few documents, including the Democratic Party’s 200-page opposition research report on Donald Trump. “The main part of the papers, thousands of files and mails, I gave to Wikileaks. They will publish them soon,” Guccifer 2.0 says in its blog post. (U.S. intelligence would later identify Guccifer 2.0 as the “persona” used by Russian military intelligence to release hacked emails to media outlets and WikiLeaks.)
Trump releases a statement that says: “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.”
July 25 — The FBI confirms it has opened an investigation into the hacking of the DNC computer network. In a tweet, Trump says: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
Sept. 8 — In an interview that airs on RT, formerly known as Russia Today, Trump says it is “pretty unlikely” that the Russian government was behind the hacks targeting the Democratic Party. “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows? But I think that it’s pretty unlikely,” Trump says. “I hope that if they are doing something I hope that somebody’s going to be able to find out so they can end it, because that would not be appropriate.”
Sept. 26 — At the first presidential debate, Trump discounts reports that Russia is behind the computer hacks targeting Democrats. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” Trump says. “She’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?”
Oct. 7 — WikiLeaks begins to release Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails.
The Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issue a joint statement saying that the U.S. intelligence community is “confident” that hacks into the email systems of the Democratic Party and its officials were directed by “Russia’s senior-most officials.”
Oct. 9 — At the second presidential debate, Clinton notes that “our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin, meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks … to influence our election.” Trump responds: “I notice any time anything wrong happens they like to say, the Russians, the Russians — she doesn’t know it’s the Russians doing the hacking, maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.”
Oct. 12 — In a direct message on Twitter, WikiLeaks asks Donald Trump Jr., to have his father tweet a link to hacked Democratic emails that can be found on WikiLeaks: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us wlsearch.tk. i.e you guys can get all your followers digging through the content. There’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows will find it.”
Donald Trump, the candidate, tweets, “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” The tweet does not include a link to WikiLeaks, and it is not clear if the tweet is in response to WikiLeaks’ request.
Oct. 19 — At the third and final debate, Trump again refuses to accept the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was responsible for stealing emails of Democratic Party committees and officials. “She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else,” Trump says of Clinton. When Clinton interrupted to say it was the opinion of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking, Trump responded: “And our country has no idea.”
Nov. 28 — In an interview with Time magazine, Trump says, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.'” He goes on to say, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
Dec. 9 — The Washington Post reports that the CIA believes Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was designed to help elect Trump. In response, Trump issues a statement that criticizes the U.S. intelligence community. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 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.’”
Jan. 3 — In advance of a meeting with U.S. intelligence officials about Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections, Trump tweets: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
Jan. 4 — In a tweet, Trump repeats WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s denial that he received hacked DNC emails from Russia: “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!”
Jan. 6 — The Office of the Director of National Intelligence releases a declassified intelligence report that says: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The report says Russian intelligence services gained access to the Democratic National Committee computer network for nearly a year, from July 2015 to June 2016, and released hacked material to WikiLeaks and other outlets “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”
April 29 — Trump tells CBS News’ John Dickerson, “[K]nowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”
Sept. 22 — As Facebook prepares to provide congressional investigators with more than 3,000 advertisements Russia purchased during the 2016 campaign, Trump tweets, “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”
Nov. 11 — After meeting with Putin at Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Trump says he believes Putin “means it” when he says Russian didn’t interfere in the 2016 election. “[E]very time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget, all he said is he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
There are other tweets, interviews and remarks from Trump about Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. But these are more than enough to establish that the president frequently doubted and sometimes denied that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC.
In his Twitterstorm about Russia, the president also repeated some false or unsupported claims that we have written about before.
Impact on election outcome: In response to White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster saying on Feb. 17 that it is “now really incontrovertible” that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump tweeted that “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.”
But there has been no determination on whether Russia’s meddling affected the election outcome or not.
In his Feb. 16 press conference, Rosenstein said, “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.” As we’ve written, that’s consistent with a declassified intelligence report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that was released on Jan. 6, 2017. That report accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, but it “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Obama’s response to Russia: In a tweet on Feb. 18, Trump thanked Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, for saying in an interview that “the Obama administration should have done more” in response to Russian interference in the election.
Then, on Feb. 19, Trump again criticized Obama, tweeting: “Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”
But Trump is wrong to say that Obama didn’t act before or after the election.
As we’ve written, Obama said that he spoke directly to Putin about the issue at the G-20 summit in September 2016. In addition, his administration worked with state officials from mid-August until Election Day to prevent voting systems from being hacked. The latter, Obama said, was his “principal goal leading up to the election.”
And after the election, Obama announced on Dec. 29, 2016, that he would impose sanctions on Russia for interfering in the election. Other actions Obama took included expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives and closing two Russian government-owned compounds in the U.S.
At the time, Trump criticized the sanctions. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” he said in a statement.