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Faced with massive suspected Russian cyber-attack on the U.S. government, Trump blames China

December 21, 2020, 10:17 AM UTC

President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of a massive cyber-attack on the U.S. government and suggested China may have been responsible — even as other U.S. officials are convinced Russia was the perpetrator.

In doing so Saturday on Twitter, the president contradicted assessments from senior officials within his own administration who’ve blamed Moscow for the intrusion of at least half a dozen federal agencies — including comments Friday night from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

Marco Rubio of Florida, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, rejected Trump’s conclusion, calling the hack “the gravest cyber intrusion in our history,” and one conducted by “Russian intelligence.”

Trump, though, in his first public comments on the hack initially reported on Dec. 13, said the incident was “far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality.”

Bloomberg News reported Saturday that at least 200 organizations, including government agencies and companies around the world, have been hacked as part of the suspected Russian cyber-attack.

“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!)”

The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. 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….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2020

Trump went on to suggest without evidence that there may also have been a “hit” on the nation’s voting machines, in his latest bid to cast doubt on his loss in November’s presidential election.

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump’s comment was a “scandalous betrayal of our national security” that “sounds like it could have been written in the Kremlin.”

The Chinese government also rejected the accusation, with a spokesman calling it “not serious and self-contradicting.”

“U.S. allegations against China have always been a farce made out of political motives in order to smear and denigrate China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday in Beijing. “Such behavior and words are totally inconsistent with the U.S. standing as a major country.”

The president tagged Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe in his tweet, underscoring his intention to contradict the assessment of administration officials who’ve blamed Russia for the intrusion.

Pompeo on Friday described the hack as “a very significant effort” and said the U.S. could “say pretty clearly that it was the Russians engaged in this activity.”

“There was a significant effort to use a piece of third-party software to essentially embed code inside of U.S. government systems, and it now appears systems of private companies and companies and governments across the world as well,” Pompeo told radio host Mark Levin.

John Ullyot, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said in a statement that the council “is focused on investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident, and working with our interagency partners to mitigate the situation.” He didn’t name the suspected perpetrator.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, led by Trump ally Ratcliffe, also issued a statement on Wednesday describing the incident as “significant.”

“This is a developing situation, and while we continue to work to understand the full extent of this campaign, we know this compromise has affected networks within the federal government,” the DNI said in the statement.

A wider range of government agencies and large corporations have been impacted by the hack, which installed what is known as a backdoor in widely used software from Texas-based SolarWinds Corp. that allowed hackers access to computer networks.

U.S. government agencies known to have been targeted included the State, Treasury, Homeland Security, Energy and Commerce departments. Microsoft Corp. said it had identified more than 40 customers targeted by the hackers.

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday released a statement saying he would not “sit idly by” in response to the attack.

“I want to be clear: My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government — and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office,” Biden said.(Updates with Chinese response from ninth paragraph.)

–With assistance from Colum Murphy.