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White House suggests Putin was involved in U.S. hacking

Bradley Klapper
Associated Press

Washington — The Obama administration suggested Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the hacking of Democratic officials’ email accounts in the run-up to the presidential election and said it was “fact” that such actions helped Donald Trump’s campaign. The White House also assailed Trump himself, saying he must have known of Russia’s interference.

Trump again cast doubt on the idea, questioning why the federal government waited until after votes were cast to present its strongest case on the hacking.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act?’’ Trump said in a Twitter message on Thursday morning. “Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?’’

The White House and several intelligence agencies did, in fact, allege in October that the Russian government had directed cyber intrusions against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Obama administration ordered a further review of the hacking this month.

President Barack Obama says the U.S. must and will take action against Russia in response to cyber interference with the election.

Obama told NPR News the U.S. will respond at a “time and place of our choosing.” His comments are the clearest indication to date that whatever response the U.S. is planning has not yet occurred.

No proof was offered for any of the accusations against Putin or Russia, the latest to unsettle America’s uneasy transition from eight years under Democratic President Barack Obama to a new Republican administration led by Trump.

“Only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, connected the dots further, saying it was Putin who was responsible for the Russian government’s actions.

“I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” Rhodes said on MSNBC.

The explosive accusation paints Putin, the leader of perhaps the nation’s greatest geopolitical foe, as having directly undermined U.S. democracy. U.S. officials have not contended, however, that Trump would have been defeated by Clinton on Nov. 8 if not for Russia’s assistance.

The Kremlin flatly rejected the claim of Putin’s involvement, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissing it Thursday as “laughable nonsense.”

Although the president and president-elect have avoided criticizing each other publicly since Trump’s win, their aides have been more openly antagonistic. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior transition adviser, said it was “breathtaking” and irresponsible that the White House had suggested Trump knew Russia was interfering to help his campaign.

That led Obama spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday to unload, arguing that Trump, who has dismissed the CIA’s assessment of Russian interference, should spend less time attacking the intelligence community and more time supporting the investigation that Obama has ordered.

Earnest said it was “obvious” Trump knew what Russia was doing during the campaign, pointing out that Trump had encouraged Moscow during a news conference to find Clinton’s missing emails. Trump has said he was joking.

“I don’t think anybody at the White House thinks it’s funny that an adversary of the United States engaged in malicious cyber activity to destabilize our democracy,” Earnest said. “That’s not a joke.”

U.S. intelligence officials have linked the hacking to Russia’s intelligence agency and its military intelligence division. Moscow has denied all accusations that it orchestrated the hacking of email accounts of Democratic Party officials and Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, and then leaked them to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Trump and his supporters insist the Democrats’ outrage about Russia is really an attempt to undermine the validity of his election victory. Rep. Peter King, a Trump ally and New York Republican, called it “disgraceful.”

“Right now, certain elements of the media, certain elements of the intelligence community and certain politicians are really doing the work of the Russians,” King said.

Bloomberg News contributed.

Lawyer picked as Israel ambassador

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen attorney David Friedman to serve as his U.S. ambassador to Israel.

Friedman advised Trump on U.S.-Israel affairs during the presidential campaign. Trump says in a statement released by his transition team that Friedman’s “strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission.”