Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Donald Trump during their meeting at the G-20 summit earlier this month that it couldn’t have been Russia that hacked into the Democratic National Committee last year because Russian hackers were too good to get caught.
That is according to The New York Times’ David Sanger, who reported Sunday that Trump emerged from the meeting telling his aides that Putin had offered “a compelling rejoinder: Moscow’s cyberoperators are so good at covert computer-network operations that if they had dipped into the Democratic National Committee’s systems, they would not have been caught.”
In an interview with Reuters shortly after the two met, Trump alluded to Putin’s comments: “Somebody did say” that if Putin did order the hacking, “you wouldn’t have found out about it,” Trump said. Trump declined to say who that “somebody” was but called the idea “a very interesting point.”
The White House declined to comment, referring all Russia-related questions to Trump’s outside legal counsel. But the episode aligns with a comment Sunday from the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, who said Trump was not convinced that the Russians hacked into the DNC last year.
Trump “said to me yesterday that if the Russians actually hacked this situation, and spilled out those emails, you would’ve never seen it — you would’ve never had any evidence of that,” Scaramucci said in an interview with CNN. “They’re super confident in their deception skills and hacking.”
The notion that Moscow would have tried to conceal its efforts, however, differs from what experts and intelligence officials have concluded was the main purpose of Russia’s election interference: to sow chaos and undermine the legitimacy of the election, no matter who won.
The Russians “were unusually loud in their intervention,” James Comey said during a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, two months before he was fired as FBI director. “It’s almost as if they didn’t care that we knew.”
Comey suggested that Russia may have wanted the US government to tell the public what Russia was doing so as to “amplify” its efforts.
“Their loudness, in a way, would be counting on us to amplify it by telling the American people what we saw,” Comey said, “and freaking people out about how the Russians might be undermining our elections successfully.”
Putin denied last month that the Kremlin had ordered the cyberattacks. But he said that “patriotically minded” Russians, whom he compared to artists, might have taken it upon themselves “to fight against those who say bad things about Russia.”
Trump is still skeptical that the Russians were behind the election hacking. According to Scaramucci, Trump called him from Air Force One on Saturday and “basically said to me, ‘Hey, you know, maybe they did do it, maybe they didn’t do it.'”