Amid hacking row, pressure builds on Trump to soften pro-Russia rhetoric

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn look at U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as he talks with the media at Mar-a-Lago estate where Trump attends meetings, in Palm Beach, Florida
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) and U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (C) look at U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as he talks with the media at Mar-a-Lago estate where Trump attends meetings, in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

January 10, 2017

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump is finding himself caught between his desire to improve relations with Russia and fellow Republicans who are pushing for a harsher response to what American spy agencies say was the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

The tacit acknowledgement on Sunday by his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party organizations suggests that Trump’s maneuvering room could be shrinking.

Trump has long been dismissive of the U.S. intelligence conclusion that Russia was behind the election hacks, which Russia has denied, or was trying to help him win the November ballot, saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a 400-pound hacker sitting on his bed.

But following a report from U.S. intelligence agencies last week blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia experts say Trump will face growing calls for a stiff military, diplomatic, economic, and perhaps also covert response after his Jan. 20 inauguration.

“The new U.S. administration will need to adopt a significantly tougher line,” said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington that is an influential voice in Trump’s transition team.

Republicans in Congress wary of Trump’s push for detente with Putin could pressure the new president to withhold the thing the Russian leader wants most: a rapid easing of the economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Russia experts said.

U.S. intelligence agencies say that since the election, Russian spies have turned to hacking other individuals and organizations, including prominent think-tanks, in what analysts think is an effort to gain insights into future U.S. policies.

Washington’s Brookings Institution, which is headed by prominent Russia expert Strobe Talbott, “received a big wave of attacks the day after the election,” but there is no reason to believe its systems have been compromised, said David Nassar, the think tank’s vice president for communications.

SHOWDOWN WITH CONGRESS?

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he and fellow Republican John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would introduce legislation with stronger sanctions than the ones now in place.

“We’re going to introduce sanctions that … will hit them in the financial sector and the energy sector, where they’re the weakest,” Graham told NBC television’s Meet the Press.

Retired Marine General James Mattis, the nominee for secretary of defense who will face a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, is expected to advocate a stronger line against Moscow than the one Trump outlined during his election campaign.That could put him at odds with Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who has had warmer relations with Putin’s government, and with Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, who as CEO of ExxonMobil had extensive business ties with Russia.

If Mattis does push for a tougher approach to Russia, that could empower U.S. advocates for strengthening the American military presence in Europe. That could include reinforcing U.S. troops in the Baltic states and Poland, analysts say.

NATO already plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops, planes, tanks and artillery to the three former Soviet republics in the Baltics and Poland this year.

“There is nervousness about Trump among Europeans at NATO,” said one European diplomat. “Any grand bargain with Russia would fundamentally change NATO’s course and threaten Europe with disunity,” the diplomat said. “But we don’t expect that. NATO is seeking to reassure Baltic allies, and the United States is a big part of the deterrent.”

Some advocates of a sterner response to the Russian hacking say it should include cyber counterattacks, perhaps by leaking financial information embarrassing to some of Putin’s aides and close associates.

So far, the Obama administration has refrained from such action, at least publicly, for fear that it could lead to an escalating cyberwar that could threaten critical infrastructure such as financial transactions and energy transmission.

TRUMP RUSSIA POLICY STILL A BLUR

Although Trump has said the nation needed to “move on to bigger and better things” following the U.S. disclosure of alleged Russian hacking, it appears that Republican and Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to drop the issue anytime soon.

McCain told NBC he wanted to create a select committee to investigate the Russian hacking, if he can convince the Republican-controlled Senate’s leaders to charge their minds.

In the meantime, he said, key Senate committees, including Armed Services and Intelligence, will investigate.

Experts say the close scrutiny of Russia’s actions will come just as Trump’s administration starts to craft a comprehensive strategy on the former Cold War foe. It is likely to be weeks or longer before a clear sense of Trump’s actual Russia strategy comes into view.

“Until there’s a team in place, until there’s a little more organization … I tend to think we’re not going to have clear answers,” said Heather Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by Warren Strobel, Patricia Zengerle, Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott in Washington and Robin Emmott in Brussels, editing by Ross Colvin)

  • Dave Chandler

    Reuters fake news central says…

  • Melanie

    Russia isn’t doing anything to us that we aren’t doing, and have done for many many years, to them. Not to mention all of the other countries that are hacking us 5 times to Sunday. Maybe if Obama wasn’t such an ass, they wouldn’t be so inclined to look into our emails. And let’s not forget how stupid the DNC was about getting hacked, so they say. I still believe Assange that it was an insider and I’d rather be talking about the contents of the hacked emails then who hacked them. Let’s see what journalist has the guts to make a “special report” on that.

  • Dens

    My, my, my, where is all this ‘pressure’ to attack Russia coming from besides Obama’s ‘news’ propagandists? All the so-called ‘intelligence’ or ‘spy’ agencies supposedly producing all this ‘non evidence’ are headed up by Obama appointees and have been known to abuse the truth for their boss. As far as the statements of Senators McCain and Graham, who never saw a war they didn’t like and are constantly showing signs of severe ‘Russophobia’, one must wonder how much of their fear mongering is attributable to the fear of not pleasing their big defense industry donors?

    Mr. Trump needs to tread carefully around that ‘swamp’ he has promised to drain. It’s denizens will go to any lengths to remain submerged in their greedy spoils of political power and easy money. Even starting a war with Russia or anyone else to further their cause is obviously in play.

  • Deplorable B Church

    Still no proof of hacking. Just the intelligence community issuing a report saying that the intelligence community is right. This Russia stuff is a load of BS from start to finish. Trump needs to remember that both the Dems and the GOPe are his enemies, no matter how much happy talk Paul Ryan makes. Time to get busy on immigration and the wall, and forget all this other garbage.

    • David Patrick Murphy

      Concur!

    • Trevor Woods

      The Russian hacking thing was debunked when Jill Stein had her pathetic recount, which proved there was no evidence of any tampering or foulplay. Hillary is such a moron that she believes Americans forget things too easy. The little people she hates so much.

      • Jonney Quest

        Where there were issues with illegal votes the States and local Cities put up a huge fight to not be recounted. This occurred in the liberal utopias where sunlight is not permitted. The FBI didn’t even bother to look into it, bunch of hypocrites.

        • Trevor Woods

          That’s the Democrat ideology, “When the Democrats do it, it’s not illegal.”

          • Dave Chandler

            Whitewater

  • JakeXIII

    Russia, China, as well as many of our presumed ” friends” are constantly trying to hack into our government, our political organizations and many of our major corporations. This is called espionage and we do it back to them ( although much less successfully under Obama) . It happens everywhere everyday as nations try to gain an information advantage over one another. Someone hacked the DNC and Podesta and found very embarrassing emails detailing the dirty tricks politics that is typical of our crooked left wing career politicians. These embarrassing emails were then given to WikiLeaks by someone and were released to the public. If the democrats were not corrupt, haughty, crooks their emails would not have embarrassed them. Their own deceitful behavior is the real issue here – not that the Russians or anyone else hacked them. The democrats are not at all sorry about the unethical things they did – they are just mad that they were caught doing them.

    • David Patrick Murphy

      JakeXIII: Concur with your assessment. As a contractor performing defense analyses many moons ago, I was always aware of the threats to America. We had on-line training for information security multiple times each year.

    • Jonney Quest

      If Podesta is typical of a Democrat running the country then its no wonder Democrats only make up 12% of Congress. His e-mails and hate of everyone (besides himself) showed the US what the Democratic Party is all about.

  • Steven Wilson

    Yeah….call up the Neo Cons…Obama…and Hillary Clinton.
    Start a nuclear war with these clowns advice.
    So much for the anti war Democrats.
    Obama forgot about that election promise.

    • David Patrick Murphy

      Steven: Even though I worked in the IC, their report and its findings were shoddy work. It is disturbing that such an “important” report was handled so badly. My assessment is based on the overuse of phrases that give me the feeling that we are being expected to just “buy the pig in the poke”. Since I do not have access to see the full report, you are stuck with me telling you to not “buy the pig”. That’s all I can suggest.