The Slatest

Pompeo Links Russia to Cyberattack but Trump Downplays It and Says Could Have Been China

President Donald Trump, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, holds a press conference on China on May 29, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, holds a press conference on China on May 29, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first member of the Trump administration to publicly say that Russia was behind the huge cyberattack on federal government agencies. “This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Pompeo said in an interview Friday on the Mark Levin Show. “I can’t say much more as we’re still unpacking precisely what it is, and I’m sure some of it will remain classified. But suffice it to say there was a significant effort to use a piece of third-party software to essentially embed code inside of U.S. Government systems and it now appears systems of private companies and companies and governments across the world as well.” Russia has denied any connection to the hack.

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At least half a dozen federal agencies were targeted in the attack that has been underway since spring and detected only a few weeks ago by the private sector. Intrusions have been reported in numerous government agencies, including the State Department, the Pentagon, Treasury, and Homeland Security. Nuclear laboratories as well as private companies were also targeted. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency had previously acknowledged the hack “poses a grave risk” to federal, state, and local governments. The agency added that it was likely some of the procedures had “not yet been discovered” and it could take a while to eliminate the threat considering the attack used novel, sophisticated tactics.

Trump had been conspicuously mum about the attack all week and broke that silence on Saturday only to contradict his top diplomat. The president downplayed the significance and suggest without providing a shred of evidence that China, rather than the Kremlin, could have been the culprit. “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens,” Trump tweeted. In a seeming contradiction of members of his own government, Trump also said the hack was “far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality” and assured that “everything is well under control.” Trump also, again without a shred of evidence, suggested the hack could have affected voting machines in his continued effort to discredit the election results.

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It wasn’t just the media though that have been pointing out Trump’s notable silence on the attack. Sen. Mitt Romney, for example, said on Friday that Trump’s failure to respond to the attack was “extraordinary.” He likened the attack to the modern-day equivalent of “Russian bombers reportedly flying undetected over the entire country.” Romney is just one example of how lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made clear they believe Russia was behind the attack. The two highest/ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, said the attack “has the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation.”

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