President Trump's national security adviser said Saturday that Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections is beyond dispute, marking a sharp reversal of Trump's frequent dismissal of alleged Russian cyber-meddling as a "hoax." H.R. McMaster was ...
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY Published 8:32 a.m. ET Feb. 17, 2018 | Updated 1:39 p.m. ET Feb. 17, 2018
Special counsel's office charges 13 Russian nationals, 3 Russian entities with interfering in US political process. (Feb. 16) AP
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President Trump's national security adviser said Saturday that Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections is beyond dispute, marking a sharp reversal of Trump's frequent dismissal of alleged Russian cyber-meddling as a "hoax."
H.R. McMaster was speaking at an international conference in Munich in response to a question from a Russian delegate.
He spoke shortly after an appearance at the same gathering by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who had dismissed as "just claptrap" allegations of Russian meddling found in U.S. indictments handed down Friday.
Former Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, who has been drawn into the FBI probe through his contact with key Trump figures, also shrugged off the latest accusations.
"I have seen so many allegations and indictments in recent years towards Russians," said Kislyak, who also attended the Munich gathering. "Our American colleagues launched some kind of hunting spree throughout the world on Russian computer wizards."
He said the issue has "spoiled the trust between us even before you came up with the new allegations."
More: Read Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals for election meddling
More: Takeaways from Mueller's indictment of Russian nationals who meddled in election
More: Meet the 13 Russians charged in Mueller probe
Referring to the indictment of 13 Russians, McMaster said that “with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now incontrovertible” of Russia cyber-meddling.
McMaster's sharp accusations were the most pointed from a high White House official regarding charges of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
The comments also reflected a decided shift from the Trump White House regarding Russia's possible role.
In the past, Trump has regularly dismissed claims of Russian involvement as a "hoax" while at other times has said that meddling could be the work of Russia or simply the work of some "400-pound" guy working in a basement.
In remarks in August 2017, at a rally in Huntington, W.V., Trump mocked the notion of Russian meddling in the elections, calling it a "total fabrication" and an excuse by Democrats for Hillary Clinton's loss in the presidential election.
"We won because millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country," he told the audience. "Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?"
The 37-page indictment released by Mueller charges that some of the 13 defendants in fact did travel to the United States "under false pretenses in order to collect intelligence for their interference operations."
McMaster also pointedly rejected an idea floated by Trump in a tweet in July in which he said he had discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin "forming an impenetrable Cyber Security Unit ... so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..."
Although Trump later attempted to back away from the position, McMaster on Saturday drove a clear stake into it.
Scoffing at the notion of working with Russia on cybersecurity, McMaster, “we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage.”
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