Unfortunately for the press secretary, it’s all on tape.
During an off-camera briefing on Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said then-candidate Donald Trump was “joking” when he encouraged Russian hackers to go after Hillary Clinton last summer.
“He was joking at the time,” Spicer said. “We all know it.”
Trump, however, was clearly not joking when he urged Russian hackers to wage cyberattacks on Clinton on July 27, 2016, during what was to be his final news conference before the election.
Watch the clip and judge for yourself.
The new line Spicer’s pushing about Trump’s encouragement of Russian hackers is similar to the about-face Trump made with regard to Wikileaks, a website the US intelligence community believes Russian military intelligence used to publish of information obtained via cyberattacks against Democratic targets.
Shortly before his inauguration, Trump said Wikileaks’ publication of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.” That represented a dramatic departure from what Trump was saying during the last month of his campaign, when he mentioned Wikileaks every day and in virtually every public appearance — 164 times in total — and publicly professed his love for the site.
Around the same time he made his “no effect” comment, Trump posted a tweet falsely claiming the intelligence community didn’t believe Russian cyberattacks “affected the election results.” The intelligence community actually made no such claim, however, with agencies writing in a declassified report that they “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
The one thing that has been consistent is Trump’s willingness to say anything that reinforces his narrative that the Russia story is “a big Dem HOAX!” and “a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!” That was again on display Monday when Trump tweeted that the Obama administration “did NOTHING about Russia” before the election, despite being informed of Russia’s efforts not long after Trump’s fateful news conference.
But as far back as last December, the Washington Post reported that while the Obama administration “wanted congressional leaders to sign off on a bipartisan statement urging state and local officials to take federal help in protecting their voting-registration and balloting machines from Russian cyber-intrusions” weeks before the election, their efforts were blocked by leading Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-RY). During a meeting with White House officials, McConnell “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics,” the Post reported.
It’s unclear whether Trump even accepts the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers meddled on his behalf. On Monday, Spicer hedged when asked if Trump believes the overwhelming evidence that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf, marking the second time he’s done that in a week.
Trump “believes that Russia probably was involved, potentially some other countries as well could have been equally involved — or could have been involved, not equally,” Spicer said.
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