President Obama’s top spokesman went on the attack Monday against President-elect Donald Trump and his allies over allegations the Russian government interfered in the election to boost his candidacy.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there’s no denying Trump benefitted from Russian hacking of political organizations during the campaign season.
“You didn’t need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity,” Earnest said during the daily press briefing.
“The president-elect didn’t call it into question,” he continued. “He certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.”
Earnest rattled off a long list of reported ties between Trump’s team and Russia, suggesting that members of Congress and the public knew of those connections before the election.
The spokesman also threw the White House’s support behind a congressional effort to investigate the claims, which came to light last Friday in a Washington Post report.
He noted that the only information published from the hacks, which reportedly hit Democratic and Republican groups, pertained to Democrats.
“It’s all information that is, as far as I can tell, undisputed,” Earnest said. “One conclusion it does lead me to is the special responsibility that members of Congress have to take a close look at this. Particularly those members of Congress who endorsed Trump in the elections.”
He said some Republican lawmakers backing Trump are “wringing their hands about this” effort.
“I think they should spare us the hand-wringing and fulfill their basic responsibility, since the bar has been raised, based on their political choices.”
It threatened to open a rift with Trump during a time when Obama has promised a smooth transition of power.
Trump’s team has strongly disagreed with U.S. intelligence assessments that Russian hacking was designed to aid his presidential bid.
In October, the nation’s top intelligence agencies publicly accused Russia of attempting to disrupt the U.S. election through alleged hacks of the Democratic National Committee and the private email of Hillary Clintoncampaign chairman John Podesta.
The president-elect has blamed ongoing reports about the issue on Democrats who he says are still bitter about their loss in November.
“Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card,” he tweeted Monday. “It would be called conspiracy theory!”
Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, who is being considered for a post in the Trump administration, even suggested the election-related hacking could have been a “false flag” operation, though he stressed Monday that he meant to suggest an outside foreign government’s involvement, not Obama administration participation.
“It is not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation,” Bolton said Sunday on Fox News.
Earnest dismissed that claim as a baseless “conspiracy.”
“I will rule out that the United States in any way engaged in the kind of false flag operation that a wide range of irresponsible conspiracy theories put forward,” he said.
The comments from Trump and his allies have deepened a chasm between the president-elect and the intelligence community.
It’s also set up a confrontation with a bipartisan group of senators callingfor a special investigation into the Russian hacking, which could cast a shadow over his first 100 days in office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday backed a probe by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office also says it backs an investigation, but added in a statement, “We should not cast doubt on the clear and decisive outcome of this election.”
Trump spokesman Jason Miller on Monday scoffed at the idea of a congressional probe.
“Really clearly, what this is is an attempt to delegitimize President-elect Trump’s win,” he told reporters.