President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, wants Americans to focus more on the DNC’s cybersecurity efforts than Russia’s role in a recent cyberattack against U.S. government servers.
Spicer chose to dance around questions regarding Kremlin involvement in the attack on a Monday “Fox & Friends” appearance. When asked point-blank if Russia was behind the hacking, he failed to formulate a coherent response.
He stumbled on his words:
But a question ― there’s a difference between whether they were behind ― look, every ― look, there’s of ― you know ― “probing” is the actual word when you go out and try to go to various sites ― whether or not they were hacked and they did anything is a completely different story.
After several seconds of unintelligible mumbling, Spicer decided to side step the question altogether and suggested Russian involvement is irrelevant if it didn’t effectively influence the election.
“The way the mainstream media is playing this up is that they had an influence in the election,” Spicer said. “There is zero evidence they actually influenced the election.”
But a joint report released last week from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security directly blamed Russian intelligence services for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Still, Spicer implied the president-elect isn’t concerned with mounting evidence naming Russia as the culprit behind the attack. He suggested the DNC’s cybersecurity strategy ― not a foreign adversary’s illegal attempt to swing the U.S. election ― is the larger issue at hand.
“Frankly, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful because hacking is wrong,” Spicer said. “But that 13-page report is more of a ‘how-to’ manual for the DNC as to how they can improve their IT security.”
The report followed Russian sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama, which expel 35 Russian diplomats and bar several Russian intelligence agencies and officers from traveling to the U.S and doing business with American companies.
In a Sunday interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Spicer said he thought the president’s course of action might be too harsh. He questioned whether the penalties imposed were an appropriate response to Russia’s unprecedented act of cyberwarfare.
“One of the questions that we have is, why the magnitude of this? I mean, you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken?” Spicer said. “Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t but you have to think about that.”
Several other members of Trump’s inner circle have also spoken out against Obama’s sanctions ― not to oppose punishment, but to call for stricter penalties.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the sanctions a “good initial step,” but said a stronger response to the attack must be made.
On “Fox & Friends” last week, former UN Ambassador John Bolton warned against Republicans brushing off the Russian hacking.
“The fact that Russian efforts were incompetent or insufficient shouldn’t make us feel better,” he said. “If Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and all of its bombs and torpedoes had missed, no Americans killed, no ships sunk, would we have said no harm, no foul? No, it’s the effort that they made, if this is accurate, that should trouble us. Not the fact that it failed.”