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Russia denies DNC hack and says maybe someone ‘forgot the password’

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting of ASEAN-Russia Business Forum members in Sochi, Russia, on May 20, 2016. (Pool photo by Host Photo Agency via EPA)

MOSCOW — When Russia faces uncomfortable accusations from abroad, the Kremlin normally lashes back with official declarations and scornful comments on state television.

But when the Democratic National Committee and cybersecurity experts told The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had stolen an entire database of opposition research on presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, officials here met the accusations with little more than a simple denial and a shrug.

"Usually these kinds of leaks take place not because hackers broke in, but, as any professional will tell you, because someone simply forgot the password or set the simple password 123456," German Klimenko, Putin's top Internet adviser, said in remarks carried by the RIA Novosti state news agency. "Well, it's always simpler to explain this away as the intrigues of enemies, rather than one's own incompetence."

"I absolutely rule out the possibility that the government or government agencies were involved in this," Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told journalists in a curt statement.

Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump

Western officials have accused Russia of conducting a campaign of high-profile hacking attacks that have included cyberattacks in 2007 against Estonia, a 2014 assault on Ukraine's power grid and a breach of the White House's unclassified email server last year. The latest revelations risked plunging the Kremlin into the midst of a heated U.S. election cycle that has captured the attention of a Moscow elite eager for change in Washington.

Over the years, the Kremlin has grown used to brushing off these kinds of accusations. Reports of hacking have become "ubiquitous," Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former Russian army officer, said by telephone. "I don't think that it's something they will be really talking much about or worried about."

Most state television channels, through which the vast majority of Russians get their information, did not air reports on the allegations. Some of the few official comments, posted online by Russian news agencies, were dismissive.

Russian officials have addressed the U.S. elections sparingly. Putin has offered guarded praise for Trump, calling him "lively" and "talented" during a nationally televised news conference in December. But, on the whole, the Russian leader has stayed silent on the U.S. presidential race.

Fyodor Lukyanov, a well-connected political analyst in Moscow and the editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a foreign policy journal, said that there is great interest in the U.S. elections among Russian elites and that many see Trump as potentially a better partner for Russia than Hillary Clinton.

"I don't see why they would be interested in doing this, which would just electrify the campaign of the Democratic candidate," Lukyanov said, noting that he wasn't briefed on the specifics of the hacking case. "I think in the case of these reports that many people are just used to seeing the scary ghost of Mr. Putin."

Trenin echoed that thought. "I would be suspicious that that would be a target of importance to foreign intelligence," he said. The DNC is a "soft" target compared with the National Security Council, he added. "They would likely spend their resources elsewhere. Then again, I don't know."

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