(CNN) — When President Donald Trump summoned his cabinet to the White House on Wednesday as Washington absorbed the news of a massive data breach, the heads of most of the agencies relevant to the intrusion – including the Department of Defense, the State Department , the Department of Justice, the director of intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency – were absent.
After the meeting, Trump said nothing about the attack, which went undetected by his administration’s intelligence agencies for months. Now that those agencies are mobilizing to assess the damage, which the government said Thursday could be more widespread than initially thought, posing a “serious risk to the federal government,” the president himself is silent on the matter. , concerned instead by his electoral defeat and his fabricated claims of electoral fraud.
The massive data breach, revealed in the last weeks of the Trump administration, amounts to a dramatic coda to a presidency marred by questions of deference to Russia and failed attempts to maintain warm relations with its president, Vladimir Putin. Just as he has largely ignored the latest spike in coronavirus cases, Trump appears to have abdicated responsibility in his final weeks in office.
The White House has not put an intelligence briefing on the president’s daily schedule since early October, although officials say he is regularly briefed on intelligence even when a formal briefing is not on his schedule and a senior US official The White House told CNN that Trump was briefed on the hack by his top intelligence officials on Thursday.
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Biden Information Sessions
Members of President-elect Joe Biden’s staff were also briefed by officials about the massive intrusion, said an official with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Biden himself also received details in his daily classified briefing, which has been included in his public schedule every day this week.
“Our adversaries must know that, as president, I will not sit idly by in the face of cyber attacks on our nation,” Biden said in a statement Thursday, without specifically mentioning Trump or his administration, but also failing to name Russia as the culprit. .
The extraordinary and far-reaching intrusion of suspected Russian hackers into US government systems has launched a technical introspection mission among top government cyber officials and outside experts on how this months-long ongoing cyber campaign managed to go unnoticed for so long.
It wasn’t until Wednesday night that the United States government formally recognized that the ongoing cyber campaign was still active. The revelation comes at a particularly tense moment during a divisive presidential transition and after an election that was reportedly free of foreign interference.
It’s unclear when, if anything, Trump may have been briefed on the latest attack. It’s also unclear how committed Trump has been to responding. He has left all public responses to members of his cabinet and administration. And despite the good rate of tweets about the election results and his false claims of election fraud, he has not issued a message about the hack.
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who has been a frequent critic of Trump, said Thursday that it was “surprising” that Trump had not yet responded.
“I think the White House needs to say something aggressive about what happened,” Romney said. “It’s almost as if you have a Russian bomber flying undetected over the country, including over the nation.”
Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien interrupted a trip to Europe to return to Washington for urgent meetings on the cyber attack earlier this week, and the White House has called daily discussions with national security agencies related to the intrusion, according to people familiar with the matter.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committees were briefed on the issue Wednesday, but lawmakers have since made clear that there are still more questions than answers.
“(The) dirty fact is that most entities don’t know they’ve been hacked,” Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN Thursday.
Senate Republicans said Thursday they saw no problem in Trump’s silence as his administration works to get to the bottom of the matter.
“Information is still being collected, so I warn anyone who reaches conclusions or makes pronouncements until everything is ready,” said Senate Intelligence President Marco Rubio. “I think there is still a lot to know about it. I would warn anyone not to talk too much about something when a lot of facts are still being collected.
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‘Something very important’
Sen. Josh Hawley, who sits in the Senate Armed Services, says he has not been informed about the hack. “I’m fine with what they said publicly,” he said of the administration. “It is a very important thing. And we certainly need to know more… I’m really worried about that.
When asked if Trump should address this publicly, Hawley said: “I think the most important thing is to publish a report and let us know the extent of the gap. They may be trying to figure that out.
While Trump has said nothing about the attack, his former national security adviser Tom Bossert urged the president in an opinion piece to formally attribute responsibility and, if it is confirmed that Russia is behind it, “make it clear to Vladimir Putin that these actions are unacceptable.
Trump is also threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for a provision that requires renaming military bases with names of Confederate leaders and because he wants a provision to be added to reform liability laws in social media companies such as Twitter The defense policy bill includes provisions that would help the US government address cyber threats.
“We have provisions in the bill that he needs in case of hacking, cyber threats that exist,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe said of Trump and the NDAA, which he has guided. But Inhofe, who has been briefed on the hack, said he would not criticize Trump for saying nothing.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat on the panel, has also not been informed yet, but said he is trying to arrange a meeting for Friday.
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“I think he should do it, but frankly I don’t think he will,” Kaine said when asked if Trump should address the issue vigorously. “I don’t think we will probably get a direct answer on the depth of this and what we have to do to counter it until the new administration is in place.”
As the details of the data leak still loom, the incident underscores how little Trump’s efforts to woo Putin have done to improve relations with Moscow over the past four years. Even as he frustrated his own advisers by delaying punitive measures and trying to befriend his Russian counterpart, Trump ends his term confronted with one of Russia’s most blatant attempts to infiltrate American systems to date.
This is how Trump began his presidency, when US intelligence agencies assessed that Russia had worked to influence the 2016 presidential election on Trump’s behalf. The president’s unwillingness to confront Russia on that front, or issue warnings to Putin not to interfere again, has fueled the impression among his critics that he is soft on Putin.
A tweet from Trump in 2017, following his first meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in Hamburg, has now come to exemplify the naivety with which many in Congress and even within the administration say Trump approached Russia.
“Putin and I discussed creating an impenetrable cybersecurity unit so that election hacking and many other negative things are protected,” he wrote then, an idea that was teased at the time and never came to fruition.
While Putin was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden as the winner of the US elections, he finally acknowledged the president-elect’s victory this week, saying in a message that he was “ready to have contacts and interactions with you.”
“We need an honest reestablishment in terms of US-Russian relations,” Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, said Wednesday. “We cannot be friends with Vladimir Putin and have him at the same time carry out this type of cyber attack against the United States. This is virtually a declaration of war by Russia on the United States, and we should take it that seriously.
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It wasn’t just election meddling that failed to attract the president’s condemnation; He also did not raise the issue of Russia giving handouts to US soldiers in Afghanistan with Putin when he spoke to him over the summer, another issue that Trump claimed was never included in his intelligence reports, though officials said a February written report.
After several US soldiers were wounded in Syria after what the Pentagon described as “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior” by Russian forces, Trump did not respond. And in October, even after the European Union and the United Kingdom sanctioned six senior Russian officials close to Putin for the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Trump did not.
In his book published after leaving the White House on bad terms with Trump, former national security adviser John Bolton wrote that the president was privately complaining about sanctions and other punitive measures imposed on Russia.
Bolton listed a number of the administration’s actions against Russia, saying that Trump “touted them as major achievements, but almost all of them sparked opposition, or at least widespread protests and complaints, from Trump himself.”
Always frustrated by what he called the “Russian hoax,” Trump has accused his opponents of trying to hamper good relations with Moscow as they sought to investigate the links between his campaign and Russian election interference.
So upset has Trump become at the mention of Russian misdeeds that, in the past, he has resisted intelligence warnings about Russia, asking prominent members of his national security group, including those who deliver the Daily Summary of the President, to be informed less frequently of threats from Russia to the United States, former Trump administration officials have told CNN.
When his oral intelligence report included information related to Russia’s malicious activities against the United States, Trump often questioned the intelligence itself.
CNN’s Alex Marquardt, Zachary Cohen, Brian Fung, Jennifer Hansler, and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.
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