(NBC News) — The Kremlin on Thursday disputed an exclusive NBC News report that U.S. intelligence has documented Vladimir Putin’s personal involvement in a Russian intelligence operation to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the AP the report was “laughable nonsense.”
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, accused “Western media” of being a “shill” and a “mouthpiece of various power groups.”
NBC News reported Wednesday that the U.S. has information that Putin personally directed how material hacked by Russian intelligence agencies was used during the campaign.
“It’s not the general public who’s being manipulated,” Zakharova said. “The general public nowadays can distinguish the truth. It’s the mass media that is manipulating themselves.”
In the past, Russia has specifically denied that it orchestrated a campaign of hacking, leaking, social media activism and other so-called “active measures” designed to undermine the U.S. election.
After weeks of saying he didn’t believe that Russia hacked the election, Trump appeared to change course Thursday. So did a top aide.
In a tweet, Trump said, “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
Anthony Scaramucci, a senior Trump transition team official, did not dispute Russia’s involvement in an interview Thursday night with MSNBC’s Brian Williams.
“I don’t think anybody thinks that you’re wrong,” he said of the NBC News report. “Our position right now is that we’re waiting for more information…we reject the notion that people would cyberattack our institutions…We are very upset about it.”
In a statement Wednesday night, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would make public the results of a review, ordered by President Obama, of all the intelligence about efforts to interfere in U.S. presidential elections since 2008. The report has no set publication date, but will be ready before Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.
U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News they now believe with “a high level of confidence” that Putin became personally involved in the covert Russian campaign.
Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.
Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.
Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, the Russian government wanted to elect Donald Trump. The FBI and other agencies don’t fully endorse that view, but few officials would dispute that the Russian operation was intended to harm Clinton’s candidacy by leaking embarrassing emails about Democrats.
The latest intelligence said to show Putin’s involvement goes much further than the information the U.S. was relying on in October, when all 17 intelligence agencies signed onto a statement attributing the Democratic National Committee hack to Russia.
The statement said officials believed that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” That was an intelligence judgment based on an understanding of the Russian system of government, which Putin controls with absolute authority.
Now the U.S has solid information tying Putin to the operation, the intelligence officials say. Their use of the term “high confidence” implies that the intelligence is nearly incontrovertible
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