Trump Steps Up Effort to Discredit Sanctions Against Russia
Policy + Politics

Trump Steps Up Effort to Discredit Sanctions Against Russia

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

President-elect Donald Trump appears to be stepping up his effort to undercut the Obama administration’s retaliation against Russia for interfering in the Nov. 8 election by hacking into Democratic emails and leaking millions of documents to WikiLeaks that were damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The billionaire businessman vowed over the weekend to reveal in the coming days “things that other people don’t know about hacking” that could weaken the U.S. intelligence community’s indictment against Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom Trump is courting as a possible staunch ally in a reordering of global alliances.

Related: Trump and the GOP Are On a Collision Course over Russian Sanctions

Trump has agreed to meet with U.S. intelligence officials this week to review their findings, which pretty much lay blame for the hacking at Putin’s doorstep. But the incoming Republican president has already declared it was time for the country to put the hacking controversy behind it and “move on to bigger and better things.”

Meanwhile, his top spokesman, Sean Spicer, argued on the ABC News “This Week” that President’s Obama’s sanctions against Russia were disproportionate to the alleged offense.  The government expelled 35 members of Russia’s diplomatic mission and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that were suspected of being spy nests.  Obama also imposed sanctions on officials of Russia’s two main intelligence agencies.

Spicer, who will be Trump’s White House press secretary, complained that the Obama administration did nothing to retaliate against China in 2015 for its involvement in breaching federal Office of Personnel Management records of 21.5 million people who had undergone background checks during the past 15 years.

Spicer said that Trump and his advisers question the “magnitude” of the Obama administration retaliation against Russia after declining to take any punitive action against the Chinese government for hacking into millions of highly sensitive personnel documents.

Related: Trump Rips Obama on Transition ... Then Praises Him

“The question is, is that response [against Russia} in proportion to the actions taken?” he said. “Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We have to think about it. That’s nothing we have seen in modern history. . . for any action.”

“So there is a question about whether there is a political retribution here versus a diplomatic response,” Spicer added.

But congressional Republicans and Democrats don’t see it that way, voicing outrage over Russia’s unprecedented meddling in a national election that may have influenced the outcome in Trump’s favor. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are backing calls for a congressional investigation of the Russian hacking, while Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-AZ) and others are demanding much harsher sanctions against Russia than the ones ordered by Obama last week.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on “ABC This Week” that the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and others have produced “overwhelming evidence” of Russian involvement in the hacking. He also argued that what Russia did in trying to tip the election to Trump was a far graver offense than China stealing U.S. government personnel and financial information.

“They didn’t just steal information, they weaponized it,” Schiff said of the
Russian actions.

Related: Making Friends with Russia May Be Harder than Trump Seems to Think

Trump has attempted to cozy up to Putin since early in the 2016 campaign when he praised the Russian for his strong leadership despite Putin’s aggressive action in annexing the Crimea and cracking down on domestic dissidents and journalists. Trump has blamed Obama and Clinton, the former secretary of state, for sour relations with Russia, and has promised to negotiate much better terms and relations with the Russians as the next president.

Trump has frequently gushed over Putin’s leadership skills, especially after Putin complimented the billionaire businessman’s political style. And he praised Putin again on Friday for being “very smart” after the Russian leader announced that he would not retaliate against Obama’s decisions to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions.

Then, speaking to reporters Saturday evening outside his Palm Beach, Florida, club Mar-a-Lago, Trump promised to reveal information Tuesday or Wednesday about allegations of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the  Clinton campaign organization that might cast doubt on U.S. intelligence reports pinning responsibility on Putin and Russian agents.

Related: How Team Trump Is Changing the Rules of the Media Game

“I just want them to be sure because it’s a pretty serious charge,” Trump said of the intelligence communities’ findings dating back to October.  “If you look at the weapons of mass destruction [findings], that was a disaster, and they were wrong,” he added. That was a reference to highly inaccurate intelligence cited by President George W. Bush in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“And I know a lot about hacking,” Trump said. “And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”