(CNN) – When President Donald Trump called his cabinet to the White House on Wednesday as Washington recorded news of a massive data breach, the heads of most of the agencies relevant to the break-in, 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 unnoticed by his administration’s intelligence services for months. With those agencies mobilizing to assess the damage, which the government said Thursday could be more widespread than initially thought and poses “serious risk to the federal government,” the president himself is silent on the matter. , instead concerned about his electoral defeat and his trumped-up claims of electoral fraud.
The massive data breach, which came to light in the closing weeks of the Trump administration, amounts to a dramatic coda for 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 relinquished responsibility in his last weeks in office.
The White House has not included an intelligence briefing in 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 intelligence official 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 mass burglary, an official from the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said. Biden himself also received details in his daily secret briefing, which has been featured every day on his public calendar this week.
“Our opponents need to know that as president I will not stand by and watch cyber attacks on our country,” Biden said in a statement Thursday, without specifically naming Trump or his administration, but also by not naming 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 as to how this long-running cyber campaign managed to go unnoticed for so long.
It wasn’t until Wednesday evening that the US government formally recognized that the ongoing cyber campaign was still active. The revelation comes at a particularly tense time during a divisive presidential transition and after an election reportedly free from foreign interference.
It’s unclear when Trump may have been briefed on the latest attack. It’s also unclear how committed Trump has been to respond. He has left all public responses to members of his cabinet and administration. And despite the high number of tweets about the election results and his false allegations about election fraud, he has not issued a message about the hack.
Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican who has been a frequent critic of Trump, said on Thursday that it was “surprising” that Trump had not yet responded.
“I think the White House should say something aggressive about what happened,” said Romney. “It’s almost like having a Russian bomber flying unnoticed over land, including over land.”
Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien interrupted a trip to Europe to return to Washington for urgent meetings about the cyber-attack earlier this week, and the White House has held daily talks with national security agencies regarding the break-in, say people familiar. with the case.
House and Senate intelligence committees were briefed on the matter on Wednesday, but lawmakers have since made it clear that there are still more questions than answers.
“(The) filthy fact is that most entities don’t know they’ve been hacked,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN Thursday.
Senate Republicans on Thursday said 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 will jump to conclusions or statements until everything is ready,” said Marco Rubio, chairman of the Senate’s intelligence service. “I think there is still a lot to know about it. I would like to warn everyone not to talk too much about anything when a lot of facts are still being collected.
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‘Something Very Important’
Senator Josh Hawley, who is in the Senate Service, says he was not made aware of the hack. “I’m fine with what they said in public,” he said of the administration. “It’s a very important thing. And we definitely need to know more … I’m really worried about that.
When asked if Trump should discuss this publicly, Hawley said, “I think the important thing is to publish a report and let us know the magnitude of the gap. Maybe they try to figure that out.
While Trump has said nothing about the attack, his former national security adviser Tom Bossert urged the president in an op-ed to formally assign 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 requiring the renaming of military bases with the names of Southern leaders and for wanting a provision to be added to reform liability laws in social media companies such as Twitter The defense policy bill contains provisions that would help the US government tackle cyber threats.
“We have provisions in the bill that he needs in case of hacking, cyber threats that exist,” said Senate Armed Forces Chairman Jim Inhofe of Trump and the NDAA, which he has led. But Inhofe, who has been briefed on the hack, said he wouldn’t criticize Trump for saying nothing.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat on the panel, has also not yet been notified, 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 take a firm hold on the issue. “I don’t think we’re likely to get a straight answer on the depth of this and what we need to do to counter it until the new government comes in.”
While details of the data breach still loom, the incident underscores how little Trump’s efforts to conquer Putin have done over the past four years to improve relations with Moscow. Although he frustrated his own advisers by delaying punishment and befriending his Russian counterpart, Trump is ending his tenure when he is faced with one of Russia’s most egregious 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 reluctance to confront Russia on that front, or warn Putin not to interfere again, has created the impression in his critics that he is weak for Putin.
A tweet from Trump in 2017, after his first meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in Hamburg, now illustrates 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 to protect election hacking and many other negative things,” he wrote at the time, an idea that was plagued at the time and never materialized.
While Putin was one of the last world leaders to recognize Biden as the winner of the US election, he finally acknowledged the president-elect’s victory this week by saying in a message that he was “ready to have contacts and interactions with you” .
“We need a fair recovery in terms of US-Russia relations,” Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Wednesday. “We cannot be friends with Vladimir Putin and have him carry out these kinds of cyber attacks against the United States at the same time. This is, in fact, a declaration of war from Russia on the United States, and we must take it so seriously.
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It wasn’t just electoral interference that the president could not condemn; He also did not raise the issue of Russia giving handouts to US soldiers in Afghanistan with Putin when he spoke to him this summer, another issue Trump claimed was never included in his intelligence reports, although officials said a Written Report from February.
After several US soldiers were injured in Syria following 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 poisoning 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 some of the administration’s actions against Russia, saying that Trump “cited them as significant achievements, but almost all received opposition, or at least widespread protests and complaints, from Trump himself.”
Always frustrated by what he called the “ Russian hoax, ” Trump accused his opponents of obstructing good relations with Moscow in investigating the link between his campaign and Russian electoral interference.
Trump has been so upset by the mention of Russian atrocities that he has in the past opposed intelligence warnings about Russia, asking prominent members of his national security group, including those who read the President’s daily summary, for less. often to be informed of threats from Russia to the United States, former Trump administration officials have told CNN.
When his verbal intelligence report included information about 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.