- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2016

President Vladimir Putin on Friday continued to dismiss allegations concerning the Russian government’s role in a hacking campaign waged against the Democratic Party prior to last month’s White House race amid ongoing claims involving Moscow’s purported election meddling.

Answering questions Friday from a group of journalists assembled for his annual end-of-year press conference, Mr. Putin said that Democrats are wrong to blame “outside factors” for Hillary Clinton’s loss last month to Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Democrats “are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame,” Mr. Putin told reporters, as translated by the Kremlin.

“I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully,” he added.

Asked specifically to comment on Russia being blamed for using state-sponsored hacking to influence the results of the recent White House race, Mr. Putin denied responsibility before applauding the outcome of very campaign he’s accused of ordering.

“These days, it is very easy to designate a random country as the source of attack while being in a completely different location,” Mr. Putin said of the hackers. “But is this important? I think the most important thing is the information that the hackers revealed to the public,” he added.

Mr. Putin’s response was hardly the first time he deferred blame since being formally accused by the U.S. intelligence community in October of interfering with the presidential election process, notwithstanding mounting evidence implicating the Kremlin in committing a slew of politically motivated cyberattacks.

Security experts believe state-sponsored hackers successfully penetrated the DNC in addition to the email accounts of Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, John Podesta, before passing along their contents to WikiLeaks for publication prior to the Nov. 8 election. President Obama said last week that he has “great confidence” in intelligence reports that links those hacks and others to Russian actors, and said their actions were aimed at having Mr. Trump win the White House race.

“This happened at the highest levels of the Russian government,” Mr. Obama said last week of the hacks, adding that “not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.”

Despite denying responsibility, Mr. Putin praised the hacks as recently as during Friday’s press conference when he touted leaked DNC emails having led to the resignation of the party’s former chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“What is the best proof that the hackers uncovered truthful information? The proof is that after the hackers demonstrated how public opinion had been manipulated within the Democratic Party, against one candidate rather than the other, against candidate Sanders, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson resigned. This means she admitted that the hackers revealed the truth,” Mr. Putin said Friday.

A day earlier, CrowdStrike, a security firm hired to examine the DNC breach, said the perpetrators used a specific strain of malware that has been “exclusively” used for nearly a decade in cyberattacks already attributed to Russia, including a previously undisclosed hacking campaign waged in recent months against the Ukrainian military.

Investigators believe Mr. Podesta’s email was hacked in March 2016, and the DNC breached the following month. The U.S. intelligence community didn’t formally blame Russia until six months later, roughly four weeks before Mr. Trump was elected president.

Mr. Trump has publicly doubted the intelligence community’s assessment with respect to the Russian government’s role, however, and infamously said in September that the hacker “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

“Maybe somebody just did it from their couch or bed,” Mr. Putin agreed Friday.

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