Trump splits from the intelligence community: 'Other countries and other individuals' may have meddled in the 2016 election

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  • President Donald Trump doubled down on his claim Tuesday that Russia alone may not have interfered in the 2016 US election, saying it could have been “other countries and other individuals.”
  • The statement marked yet another public fracture between the president and the US intelligence community, which concluded last year that Russia interfered in the race to boost Trump, and on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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In another public departure from the US intelligence community’s assessment, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that “other countries and other individuals” may have interfered in the 2016 US election.

“The Russians had no impact on our vote,” Trump said during a press conference. “Certainly there was meddling. Probably there was meddling from other countries and other individuals.”

The US intelligence community concluded with high confidence last year that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia to interfere in the 2016 election with the specific goal of elevating Trump while denigrating his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In addition to breaching election infrastructure in at least seven states and targeting 39, Russia-linked actors also established contacts with members of the Trump campaign who may have been sympathetic to Moscow; hacked into the Democratic National Committee and disseminated stolen materials in the months leading up to the election; and mounted a social media disinformation campaign aimed at spreading junk news and sowing discord, primarily to influence public opinion in favour of Trump.

US officials said this year that although Russian hackers infiltrated election systems, no votes were found to have been manipulated or altered.

Meanwhile, Twitter estimated last November that 36,746 Russia-linked accounts on its platform “generated approximately 1.4 million automated, election-related tweets, which collectively received approximately 288 million impressions” just from September 1 to November 15 last year.

Facebook also announced in September that “inauthentic” accounts most likely operating out of Russia had purchased $US100,000 worth of political ads between 2015 and 2016. The company added that Russian-bought ads reached approximately 10 million people and targeted users in Michigan and Wisconsin, both of which were critical to Trump’s victory.

The accounts’ activity did not stop at posting controversial memes and hashtags – many organised events, rallies, and protests, some of which galvanised dozens of people.

Tuesday was the latest in a series of instances when Trump diverged from the rest of the national-security apparatus.

After intelligence officials concluded that Russian hackers breached the DNC in the summer of 2016, then-candidate Trump said, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. I also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, ok? You don’t know who broke into DNC.”

Later that year, after the CIA determined that Russia meddled in the race to help the Trump campaign, the transition released a statement implying the CIA lacked credibility.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the statement said.

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