President-elect Donald Trump accepts the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia engaged in cyber attacks during the US presidential election and may take action in response, his incoming chief of staff said on Sunday.
Reince Priebus said Trump believed Russia was behind the intrusions into the Democratic Party organizations, although Priebus did not clarify whether the president-elect agreed that the hacks were directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"He accepts the fact that this particular case was entities in Russia, so that's not the issue," Priebus said on "Fox News Sunday."
It was the first acknowledgment from a senior member of the Republican president-elect's team that Trump had accepted that Russia directed the hacking and subsequent disclosure of Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential election.
Trump had rebuffed allegations that Russia was behind the hacks or was trying to help him win, saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a 400-pound hacker on his bed.
With less than two weeks until his Jan 20 inauguration, Trump has come under increasing pressure from fellow Republicans to accept intelligence community findings on Russian hacking and other attempts by Moscow to influence the Nov 8 election. A crucial test of Republican support for Trump comes this week with the first confirmation hearings for his Cabinet picks.
A US intelligence report last week said Putin directed a sophisticated influence campaign including cyber attacks to denigrate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and support Trump.
The report, commissioned by Democratic President Barack Obama in December, concluded vote tallies were not affected by Russian interference, but did not assess whether it influenced the outcome of the vote in other ways.
ACTION MAY BE TAKEN
After receiving a briefing on Friday from leaders of the US intelligence agencies, Trump did not refer specifically to Russia's role in the presidential campaign.
In a statement, he acknowledged that "Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat(ic) National Committee."
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told Reuters the president-elect's conclusions remained the same and that Priebus' comments were in line with Friday's statement.
Priebus' wording did not appear to foreshadow the dramatic reversal of Trump's apparent Russia policy that experts say would be required to deter further cyber attacks.
"It will take a lot more than what we heard on television today to make Putin cool it," the expert added. "In fact, there may not be anything that can deter Putin from pursuing a course he's bet his future and Russia's on," said a US intelligence expert on Russia, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss domestic political positions.
The expert added that Putin's "multifaceted campaign of cyber attacks and espionage, propaganda, financial leverage, fake news and traditional espionage" had expanded in the United States since the election, "and it will be a shock if it does not escalate in France, Germany and elsewhere this year."
Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman Trump tapped as White House chief of staff, said Trump planned to order the intelligence community to make recommendations as to what should be done. "Action may be taken," he said, adding there was nothing wrong with trying to have a good relationship with Russia and other countries.
Two senior Republican senators urged Trump to punish Russia in response to US intelligence agencies' conclusion that Putin personally directed efforts aimed at influencing the election.
HACKING CLAIMS 'AMATEURISH'
The Kremlin yesterday slammed a hacking report by US intelligence as baseless and amateurish, saying Moscow is growing tired of denying the Russian government's involvement in US election meddling.
"These are baseless allegations substantiated with nothing, done on a rather amateurish, emotional level that is hardly worthy of professional work of truly world class security services," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
The Kremlin's comments were the first official reaction by Moscow to the public report, which was half the length of the classified version presented to President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, reports AFP.
"We still don't know what data is really being used by those who present such unfounded accusations," Peskov said.
"We are still categorically denying any implication of Moscow and any accusations that officials or official government agencies have anything to do with hacking attacks."
"We are growing rather tired of these accusations. It is becoming a full on witch hunt," Peskov said, echoing Trump's claim ahead of the briefing by spy chiefs Friday that the hacking revelations were a "political witch hunt" aimed at discrediting him.