President-elect Donald Trump said initially Wednesday he believed Russia was responsible for hacking during the campaign, his first definitive admission the country actively intervened in the U.S. election. But later in the same press conference, Trump seemingly backtracked on that statement.
Trump has long denied assertions from U.S. intelligence agencies that have concluded that the Kremlin, likely under direct orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin, engaged in a cyberhacking campaign to gather and release information damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
In his first press conference since July, Trump told reporters he believed Russia was behind the hacking but also characterized the hacking by foreign governments as common practice.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I also think we've been hacked by other countries, other people,” Trump said. He referenced a hack publicized in 2015 that revealed the Office of Personnel Management had been hacked, that compromised around 22 million government employees, which he claimed the media did not “make a big deal out of.”
“That was something that was extraordinary, that was probably China,” Trump said. “We had much hacking going on.”
The OPM hack was widely reported in U.S. media.
Later, in response to a question about his public admission Russia was responsible, he said, “you know what, could have been others also.”
Trump has publicly doubted the U.S. intelligence committee’s conclusion that Russia was behind the intrusions into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. Last week, he received a classified briefing on the investigation, an unclassified version of which was made public.
Trump also said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure if Putin personally liked him, but that a good relationship between the two men would be beneficial for the U.S.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that's called an asset, not a liability,” Trump said. “Now, I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't.”
Both Democrats and Republicans expressed dismay at Trump’s public praise of Putin. Trump called the Russia president, who is known for actively suppressing his political and media critics, a “leader.”