One particular myth that is being created around Donald Trump’s news conference, which is intentionally spread by sections of the news media, is that Trump during the press conference “finally” accepted the US intelligence community’s claims about Russia’s role in the US election.
This is a myth which needs to be challenged. Here is what Trump actually said during his news conference
TRUMP: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.
We had — we had much hacking going on. And one of the things we’re gonna do, we have some of the greatest computer minds anywhere in the world that we’ve assembled. You saw just a sample of it two weeks ago up here where we had the six top people in the world — they were never in the same room together as a group. And we’re gonna put those minds together and we’re going to form a defence.
And I have to say this also, the Democratic National Committee was totally open to be hacked. They did a very poor job. They could’ve had hacking defense, which we had.
And I will give Reince Priebus credit, because when Reince saw what was happening in the world and with this country, he went out and went to various firms and ordered a very, very strong hacking defense.
And they tried to hack the Republican National Committee and they were unable to break through.
We have to do that for our country. It’s very important.
QUESTION: … just to the last part of that question (inaudible) how could all of this potentially color your attempts to build a better relationship with President Putin?
TRUMP: Well, you know, President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened.
Now, somebody would say, “Oh, of course he’s gonna say that.”
I respected the fact that he said that.
And I — I’ll be honest, I think if he did have something, they would’ve released it; they would’ve been glad to release it.
I think, frankly, had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary and all of the horrible things that her people, like Mr. Podesta, said about her. I mean what he said about her was horrible.
If somebody said about me, what Podesta said about Hillary, I was the boss, I would’ve fired him immediately or that person. Because what he said about her was horrible.
But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.
That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.
Can you imagine that if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate — it would’ve been the biggest story in the history of stories. And they would’ve said immediately, “You have to get out of the race.” Nobody even talked about it. It’s a very terrible thing.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question, sir?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.
On that intelligence report, the second part of their conclusion was that Vladimir Putin ordered it because he aspired to help you in the election.
Do you accept that part of the finding? And will you undo what President Obama did to punish the Russians for this or will you keep it in place?
TRUMP: Well, if — if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky. I mean if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created, ISIS was formed.
If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability.
Now, I don’t know that I’m gonna get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.
(bold italics added)
And here is what Donald Trump said in his statement following his briefing by the US intelligence community on Friday 8th January 2017
While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organisations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defences and the hackers were unsuccessful.
These two comments are in exact correspondence. This is what I said about Trump’s statement on 8th January 2017
These are very carefully chosen words, which show that Trump possesses high political intelligence, and (since they bear the clear hallmarks of a lawyer) that he has sought legal advice.
This statement does not criticise or condemn Russia. It does not say Russian intelligence agencies hacked the DNC. It says nothing about Russia providing the hacked DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. Nor does it refer only or specifically to Russia. Instead it lumps Russian cyber activity with that of other countries (“Russia, China, other countries”).
The one categoric comment the statement makes is an unqualified statement that hacking whether by “Russia, China, other countries” had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines”.
Reading carefully Trump’s comments at his press conference, it is clear that Trump did not say in his press conference as a matter of fact that Russia had hacked the DNC. He said that he believed it had done so, which is a statement of opinion not of fact. He also said that he believed that if the Russians had succeeded in hacking the Republican National Committee, they would have released what they found.
Under intense pressure Trump appeared to make a minimal concession to the intelligence agencies and to the media. In reality, since he was merely stating an opinion as opposed to admitting a fact, he conceded nothing, and went no further than what he said in his statement of 8th January 2017.
Trump also carefully avoided answering the question about whether he thought President Putin had ordered the publication of the Clinton leaks, skilfully diverting the question into a discussion of his likely future relationship with Putin whilst referring to the Russian denial of the truth of the material in the the Trump Dossier.
Nor did Trump criticise Russia during the press conference for interfering in the election, just as he did not do so in his statement of 8th January 2017.
Just as in his statement of 8th January 2017, Trump also continued to say nothing in his press conference about Russia providing the DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks.
Trump in his press conference, as in his statement of 8th January 2017, also continued to lump Russia’s alleged cyber activity with that of other countries (“Russia, China, other countries”)”.
Despite the blustering stream-of-consciousness appearance of his language – aimed at drowning his media questioners in a torrent of words and throwing them off balance – Trump’s words at the press conference, just like his statement of 8th January 2017, were actually carefully thought out, and bear the clear hallmarks of legal advice. Trump once again showed himself at the press conference to be a much more skilful and calculating political operator than his critics give him credit for.
It is huge stretch, and actually a twisting of Trump’s words, to read into his comments at the press conference of 11th January 2017 a deviation from his statement of 8th January 2017, or an admission that Russia interfered in the election.
However that is what the media, desperate to pin responsibility for the Clinton leaks onto Russia, and desperate to claim that Trump has admitted Russia’s role, is trying to do.
It seems that when talking today to the Western media – as when supping with the Devil – one needs a very long spoon.