President-elect Donald Trump on Thursday played down the ramifications of any Russian interference in the U.S. election, saying it is “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things” in a statement issued just hours after President Obama announced sweeping sanctions against Moscow.
Trump, who has for weeks voiced skepticism about Russia’s role in the hacking of Democratic email accounts and other hostile actions, said he would seek to learn more about the situation next week.
“Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” the president-elect said in his statement.
Trump’s posture put him at odds with Republican congressional leaders, who have condemned Russia for its actions, with some suggesting tougher measures than what Obama detailed Thursday afternoon. The president’s retaliation included the removal of 35 Russian government officials and sanctions against state agencies and individuals tied to the hacks.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) greeted the sanctions as an “overdue” gesture, while still jeering at the Obama administration over the timing, noting that the imposition of punitive measures was “an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the sanctions “a good initial step, however late in coming.”
He also hinted an interest in imposing more punitive measures against Russia if Congress’s investigation into allegations of election-related hacking yields further evidence, “to ensure that any attack against the United States is met with an overwhelming response,” he said.
Several leading senators have already pledged to conduct such investigations in their committees next year, and some of them have already expressed an interest in slamming the Kremlin with stiffer restrictions.
“We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) wrote in a joint statement Thursday. Both chair panels that intend to probe the matter of Russian hacking next year.
But no Republicans have expressed full confidence in the intelligence community’s assessment that the hacking that inspired Obama’s sanctions was done as part of a Kremlin plot to aid Trump’s chances of winning.
The FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Trump win the White House in his race against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The hacks targeted the Democratic National Committee and the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, among others.
Trump has suggested in recent weeks that the source of the hacks could be a range of other actors, including someone “sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” or “some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday night at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump sought to distance himself from Obama’s expected punishment of Russia, saying, “I think we ought to get on with our lives.”
During a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, said Trump's views could change if more solid evidence emerges that Russia was responsible.
“If the United States has clear proof of anyone interfering with our elections, we should make that known,” Spicer said, adding: “Right now we need to see further facts.”
But Spicer said there is another aspect to the talk about Russia influencing the presidential election.
“I think you have a lot of folks on the left who continue to undermine the legitimacy of his win and the nature of how big that win was,” Spicer said. He called that behavior “unfortunate.”
Later Thursday, in an interview with CNN, Spicer suggested that the DNC was partly to blame for being hacked.
"At some point, the question hasn't even been asked of the [Democratic National Committee]: Did you take basic measures to protect the data that was on there?" said Spicer, who spoke shortly before the Obama administration announced its actions. "Where's the responsibility of them to protect their systems?"