In a surprising twist, incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Sunday on Fox News that President-elect Donald Trump accepts that Russia played a role in hacking the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.
Priebus, the former RNC chairman, said Trump understands that Moscow was behind the intrusions into the Democratic Party organizations. "He accepts the fact that this particular case was entities in Russia so that’s not the issue" and added that Trump "is not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular hacking campaign."
"But here's the thing that I think everyone needs to understand — when this whole thing started, it started from the Russians 50 years ago ... This is something that's been going on in our elections for many, many years." Priebus said it "happens every election period."
"In this particular case, it started way back in 2015 before either nominee of either party was chosen," Priebus said. "And it started ... as a spearfishing expedition over many different institutions."
Additionaly, Priebus blasted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for its lack of IT defenses. The DNC was warned multiple times by the FBI before being hacked, Priebus added, and officials didn't respond. "So yes, we have bad actors around the world," Priebus said."But we also have a problem when we have a major political institution that allows foreign governments into their system with hardly any defenses or training."
As Reuters notes, Priebus' comments marked a major shift in the official Trump narrative: the president elect has repeatedly dismissed claims that the Russians were trying to help him, arguing that those charges are the product of his political opponents trying to undermine his victory.
So far, Trump has only indirectly acknowledged the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election and has consistently downplayed its significance — and the president-elect has a history of later contradicting what his surrogates tell the media.
On Friday morning, shortly before being briefed by US intelligence, Trump tweeted that "Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place.The Republican National Committee had strong defense!" He then tweeted two follow-up comments, first that "Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!" followed by "Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!"
After the briefing, Trump stated, “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
Then, on Friday evening he appeared to once again extend an olive branch to Russia, tweeting that "having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only "stupid" people, or fools, would think that it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!"
Priebus statement was the first acknowledgement from a senior member of the president-elect's team that Trump has accepted that Moscow was involved in the hacking and subsequent disclosure of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election. The former RNC chair said Trump plans to order the intelligence community to make recommendations as to what should be done. Depending on those recommendations, "actions may be taken," he said. He did not elaborate.
While Trump has yet to validate Priebus' comments, moments ago he retweeted a Fox News tweet which cited Kellyanne Conway who said that "We certainly don’t want intelligence interfering with politics and we don’t want politics interfering with intelligence.”