During an Oval Office interview with the Washington Post, U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time that, in 2018, he authorized a covert cyberattack against Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll farm that spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and was doing the same in the 2018 midterm elections.
Asked whether he had launched the attack, Trump replied: “Correct.”
Trump said that, in 2016, President Barack Obama “knew before the election that Russia was playing around. Or, he was told. Whether or not it was so or not, who knows? And he said nothing. And the reason he said nothing was that he didn’t want to touch it because he thought [Hillary Clinton] was winning because he read phony polls. So, he thought she was going to win. And we had the silent majority that said, ‘No, we like Trump.’ ”
Unlike Obama, Trump says, he acted on the intelligence he was given about Russia’s election interference by striking its cyber capabilities.
“Look, we stopped it,” the president said.
The cyberattack was previously reported in The Post, but Trump had never officially confirmed it until now. Senior U.S. officials also confirmed that the strike occurred and was effective, taking the Internet Research Agency offline.
Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections was serious and pervasive. In February 2018, then-Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that “the United States is under attack,” and that Russia had been emboldened in 2018 by the success of its previous influence operations, for which the United States had imposed no price. During the hearing, Democrats accused the Trump administration of failing to prepare to protect the 2018 vote. “We’ve had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks. But we still do not have a plan,” the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), told the intelligence chiefs.