Russia Challenges U.S. To Prove It Meddled In Election
RFE/RL December 16, 2016
The Kremlin is challenging the United States to prove allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, saying that Washington should provide evidence or stay silent.
"It's necessary to either stop talking about this or show some proof already," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists on the sidelines of Putin's summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. "Otherwise it looks quite unseemly."
Peskov spoke a day after President Barack Obama said the United States would "take action" against Russia for interfering in the election.
"I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections...we need to take action and we will," Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio that was released late on December 15.
"At a time and a place of our own choosing. Some of it may be...explicit and publicized; some of it may not be," Obama told NPR. He said, "Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it."
His comments came as the White House has grown increasingly explicit in suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the hacking and subsequent leaking of internal Democratic e-mails in an attempt to help elect Republican Donald Trump over his Democratic opponent HIllary Clinton.
Earlier on December 15, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the cyberattacks, which U.S. intelligence has accused Russia of directing, would have required Putin's approval.
"I don't think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.... When you're talking about a significant cyber intrusion like this, we're talking about the highest levels of government," Rhodes told MSNBC.
His remarks followed recent media reports citing unidentified U.S. intelligence officials as saying that a CIA assessment had determined that Russia's aim was indeed to help President-elect Donald Trump defeat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the November 8 election.
Both the Kremlin and Trump have dismissed the allegation.
In October, Obama authorized the U.S. director of national security and the Department of Homeland Security to issue a statement saying that they are "confident" the Russian government "directed" the hacking of e-mails of individuals and groups, including political organizations.
Though the statement did not name the targets, it was a clear reference to cyber-breaches of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton's campaign, among others. Leaked e-mails from those intrusions are widely seen as having damaged Clinton in the election.
The October statement did not name Putin or suggest that the alleged Russian effort was aimed at helping Trump, who has pledged to seek a warming of ties with Moscow that have been badly strained over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
The televised comments by Rhodes came less than 24 hours after an NBC News report that U.S. intelligence officials believe with a "high level of confidence" that Putin was personally involved in Russian efforts to interfere in the election.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin considered the NBC News report to be "laughable nonsense."
Without explicitly denying it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was "stunned" by the report and added, "In my view, the stupidity and absolute futility of...an effort to convince someone of this is obvious."
The Reuters news agency later cited three unidentified U.S. officials as saying that Putin supervised Russian intelligence agencies' hacking of the U.S. election and shifted the goal from discrediting U.S. democracy to helping Trump.
"This began merely as an effort to show that American democracy is no more credible than Putin's version is," Reuters quoted on of the officials as saying. "It gradually evolved from that to publicizing (Hillary) Clinton's shortcomings and ignoring the products of hacking Republican institutions, which the Russians also did."
By autumn, it became a bid to help Trump's campaign because "Putin believed he would be much friendlier to Russia, especially on the matter of economic sanctions" than Clinton," the official was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on December 15 that he is confident that the U.S. administration in the coming weeks will disclose further details on the alleged Russian hacking.
Kerry declined to comment on Putin's potential involvement or the possibility that the cyberattacks were aimed at helping Trump.
But he said he believes Obama's administration will soon disclose more details about the cyber-intrusions.
"Now we have to get out the facts, and I'm confident we will in the months ahead," Kerry said.
Trump is set to take office on January 20.
Kerry defended Obama, who campaigned for Clinton in the election, against critics who have said he should have come out more forcefully on the alleged Russian hacking campaign ahead of the vote. Kerry cited the public statement accusing Moscow of directing the effort.
"The president understood and made clear it's a serious matter. It was a serious matter then, and it's a serious matter now as even more information comes out," Kerry said.
With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Carl Schreck, Reuters, AP, and NBC News
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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