White House Says Trump Knew About Russian Hacking During Election, Trump Team Fires Back

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Donald Trump

"Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton’s campaign," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

The Obama administration suggested Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the hacking of Democratic officials' email accounts in the run-up to the presidential election and said it was "fact" that hacking had helped President-elect Donald Trump's campaign. The White House also leveled an astounding attack on Trump himself, saying he must have known of Russia's interference.

No proof was offered for any of the accusations, the latest to unsettle America's uneasy transition from eight years under Democratic President Barack Obama to a new Republican administration led by Trump. The claims of Russian meddling in the election also have heightened already debilitating tensions between Washington and Moscow over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other disagreements.

After an NBC News report quoted U.S. intelligence officials pointing the finger specifically at Putin, White House press secretary Josh Earnest pointed to an October assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that said "only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities."

Earnest said the reference to "senior-most officials" wasn't supposed to be subtle. "It's pretty obvious," he told reporters.

Trump took to Twitter early Thursday morning to incorrectly question the White House's timing on looking into the hacking. "If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?" tweeted the president-elect.

In an Oct. 7 statement, the Obama administration bluntly accused Russia of hacking American political sites and email accounts in an effort to interfere with the upcoming presidential election.

The White House on Thursday was also harshly critical of Trump, who has dismissed the allegations of Russian interference as the partisan anger of Democrats over losing the election. Trump's criticism has opened up a deep rift between the intelligence community and its incoming commander in chief.

It is "obvious" that Trump knew of Russia's behavior during the campaign, Earnest said, also disputing Trump's claim that he was joking when he encouraged Russia to find emails that Clinton had deleted from her private email server.

“Mr. Trump obviously knew that Russia was engaged in malicious cyber activity that was helping him and hurting Secretary Clinton’s campaign,” Earnest said. "First of all, it is just a fact — you have it all on tape — that the Republican nominee for president was encouraging Russia to hack his opponent because he believed that that would help his campaign."

No one in the White House, Congress or the intelligence community found it "funny" that a U.S. adversary was trying to "destabilize our democracy," he said.

The explosive accusation paints the leader of perhaps the nation's greatest geopolitical foe as having directly undermined U.S. democracy. No U.S. officials have claimed, however, that Trump would have been defeated by Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8 if not for Russia's assistance. Nor has there has been any indication of tampering with the vote-counting.

The Kremlin flatly rejected the claim of Putin's involvement, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday dismissing it as "laughable nonsense."

Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on Fox News Thursday and expressed outrage over Earnest's comments.

“That is just remarkable," she said. "That is breathtaking. I guess he’s auditioning to be a political pundit after his job is over soon. That is incredibly disappointing to hear from the podium of the White House press secretary. He essentially stated that the president-elect had knowledge of this, maybe even fanned the flames. It’s incredibly irresponsible and I wonder if his boss, President Obama, agrees.”

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