One day after a federal grand jury indicted more than a dozen Russians in connection with interfering in the 2016 presidential election, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Saturday, “As you can see with the F.B.I. indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute.”
McMaster’s remarks to an international audience at the Munich Security Conference, including several Russian officials, were notable, in part, because they appeared to fly in the face of his boss’s oft-repeated claims about the investigation being a phony witch hunt.
McMaster used forceful language to convey American strength against what the indictment describes as a coordinated disinformation campaign, waged largely online, meant to sway American voters in Trump’s favor.
“The United States will expose and act against those who use cyberspace, social media and other means to advance campaigns of disinformation, subversion and espionage,” McMaster said.
He emphasized the need for the West to come together to defend itself against such scourges.
“We are already improving our ability to defeat these pernicious threats,” McMaster added, citing as an example The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, of which the U.S. is a member.
In responding to a question from a Russian politician about the U.S. and Russia potentially working together on cyber security, McMaster seemed to dismiss the notion.
“I’m surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available, based on how active most of them have been in undermining our democracies in the West,” he said to chuckles from the audience. He added, “we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage.”
McMaster’s remarks came in sharp contrast to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who spoke minutes earlier from the same stage, and brushed off the indictment, calling it through an interpreter “just blabber.”
The New York Times reports, Lavrov attempted to bolster his case that Russia has done nothing wrong by citing Vice President Mike Pence’s earlier assessment of the F.B.I investigation.
Pence told Axios on Wednesday, “irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
But as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told NPR, “The intelligence community has neither the authority nor the capability to make such a judgment as to whether there was or was not impact on the election. And we did not say that.”
On Friday, shortly after the indictment was announced, President Trump conceded in a tweet that Russia did carry out an “anti-US campaign,” but he said it began well before he launched his presidential run. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” he wrote.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation, said Friday there is “no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity” and “no allegation that this activity actually altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”