politics

Trump Official Calls Russian Meddling Charges Indisputable

Updated on
  • Russia’s Lavrov dimisses U.S. indictment as ‘blather’ for now
  • McMaster says Russian efforts to sway elections aren’t working

H.R. McMaster delivers a speech at the 2018 Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2018.

Photographer: Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s top security adviser said the U.S. indictment against Russian nationals showed “incontrovertible” evidence of cyber attacks, a rebuff to Vladimir Putin’s foreign minister who dismissed the allegations as “blather.”

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told an audience at the Munich Security Conference that Russia engaged in a “sophisticated form of espionage” against the U.S. in a futile attempt at disruption. He referred to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s charges this week against 13 Russian nationals and a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm,” accused of seeking to interfere in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.

“The evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute,” McMaster said on a panel Saturday. Russian attempts to influence politics in the U.S. and elsewhere are “just not working,” he said.

A U.S. federal grand jury indictment on Thursday unveiled details of a widespread and coordinated effort to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. It alleged that the operation was funded by companies controlled by a Russian businessman close to the Kremlin.

Just ‘Blather’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who went on stage in Munich just before McMaster, gave short shrift to the allegations.

“Until we see the facts, everything else is blather,” Lavrov said. “I’m sorry for this rather undiplomatic expression.”

To back his claim, Lavrov cited comments by Vice President Mike Pence and Jeanette Manfra, a top official in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Manfra “denied the reports that any country has influenced the election results,” Lavrov said.

Manfra said on Feb. 12 that “we have no evidence – old or new -- that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers,” according to a statement by the department pushing back on a news report.

Lavrov added that “the same was said by Mike Pence, just recently.” In fact, Pence told Axios news on Feb. 14 that “there were efforts by Russia” to affect the election, but that it didn’t work. Americans “can be confident” in the 2016 result, Pence said.

‘Undermining Democracies’

On the panel, McMaster was asked by Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian upper house of parliament, whether he would agree to Russian requests for a dialogue on cybersecurity matters, “which is being rejected all the time by the American side.”

“I’m surprised there are Russian cyber experts available,” McMaster responded, “based on how active most of them have been in undermining our democracies in the west.”

Kosachyov portrayed the indictment as an attack on Trump by his foes and said he expects pressure on Russia to increase as the investigation moves forward.

“This will escalate as there’s no way back for them,” Kosachyov said in an interview. “This isn’t an attack on Russia, it’s an attack on Trump. As long as Trump remains in power, this will all continue to be staged by his opponents. Russia is just a hostage.”

‘It’s Your Fight’

Russia’s ex-ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, who’s been accused of involvement in a Kremlin bid to sway the vote, dismissed the allegations as “simply fantasies which are being used for political reasons inside the United States in the fight between different sides of the political divide.”

“We never got involved as a government in the political life of the United States,” Kislyak, now a senior Russian lawmaker, told a panel discussion in Munich on Saturday. “It’s your fight.”

(Updates with former Russian ambassador’s comments in penultimate paragraph.)
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