Trump Says Focus on Russian Hacking Is a ‘Political Witch Hunt’

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump said in an interview Friday morning that the storm surrounding Russian hacking during the presidential campaign was a political witch hunt being carried out by his adversaries, who he said were embarrassed by their loss to him in the election last year.

Mr. Trump spoke to The New York Times by telephone three hours before he was set to be briefed by the nation’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials about the Russian hacking of American political institutions. In the conversation, he repeatedly criticized the intense focus on Russia.

“China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names,” he said, referring to the breach of computers at the Office of Personnel Management in late 2014 and early 2015. “How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt.”

In congressional testimony on Thursday, the intelligence officials rejected Mr. Trump’s longstanding skepticism about Russia’s cyberactivities and told lawmakers they had unanimously concluded that the Russian government used hacks and leaks of information to influence the American election.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said at the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that Mr. Trump’s comments were “disparaging” and bad for morale at the nation’s spy agencies. He said that “our assessment now is even more resolute” about the Russian hacking.

In Friday’s interview, Mr. Trump also confronted questions about whether taxpayer funds should be used to begin construction of his promised wall along the southern border. He said doing so would allow construction to begin quickly, but insisted that he would negotiate with Mexico to reimburse the United States for those costs.

On the issue of Russia’s hacking, Mr. Trump noted that there have been prior successful hackings of the White House and Congress, suggesting it was unfair that those attacks on American institutions have not received the attention that the Russians have. But none of the information from those intrusions was made public as it was in the case of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“With all that being said, I don’t want countries to be hacking our country,” Mr. Trump said. “They’ve hacked the White House. They’ve hacked Congress. We’re like the hacking capital of the world.”

Mr. Trump, who has consistently expressed doubts about the evidence of Russian hacking during the election, did so again on Friday. Asked why he thought there was so much attention being given to the Russian cyberattacks, the president-elect said the motivation was political.

“They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan,” Mr. Trump said during an eight-minute telephone conversation. “They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it’s a witch hunt. They just focus on this.”

The president-elect also noted the news this week, first reported by BuzzFeed News, that the D.N.C. had refused to give the F.B.I. access to its computer servers after it was hacked.

“The D.N.C. wouldn’t let them see the servers,” Mr. Trump said. “How can you be sure about hacking when you can’t even get to the servers?” The D.N.C. has previously said that the law enforcement agency had not asked to examine the computers.

A senior law enforcement official said the F.B.I. had repeatedly emphasized to the D.N.C. the necessity of obtaining direct access to servers and data. The F.B.I. was rebuffed and had to rely upon a third party — a computer security firm brought in by the D.N.C. — for information.

He also said that the hacking of emails from the D.N.C. and top campaign officials for Mrs. Clinton had revealed that Mrs. Clinton received advance notice of debate questions and “many, many other things that were horrible.”

“How come nobody complains about that?” Mr. Trump said, referring to a tip that a CNN commentator and Clinton supporter, Donna Brazile, gave to Mr. Podesta ahead of a Democratic Party presidential debate in Flint, Mich.

Mr. Trump said he was looking forward to his meeting Friday afternoon about the hacking with Mr. Clapper; James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director; and other intelligence officials. He said that Mr. Clapper “wrote me a beautiful letter a few weeks ago wishing me the best.”

But he said that “a lot of mistakes were made” by the intelligence community in the past, noting in particular the attacks on the World Trade Center and saying that “weapons of mass destruction was one of the great mistakes of all time.”

In a later post on Twitter, Mr. Trump also expressed his frustration that details about an intelligence report on the Russia hacking were reported by news organizations late Thursday afternoon. The Washington Post, NBC and other organizations quoted unnamed officials who said the report documented intercepts showing Russian officials celebrating Mr. Trump’s election victory.

In the earlier interview, the president-elect said that he was eager to work with the intelligence community as president, and he praised the people he selected to lead the intelligence agencies, in particular Representative Mike Pompeo, Republican of Kansas, who is his pick to lead the C.I.A.

He said that Mr. Pompeo was “first in his class” at West Point.

“We have great people going into those slots,” Mr. Trump said in the interview. “I expect to have a very, very good relationship with them.”


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  • Harriett Crosby
    followed this page 2017-02-20 00:00:31 -0500