Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling
By JONATHAN LEMIRE, JILL COLVIN and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Monday, July 16
HELSINKI (AP) — Standing next to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to Trump’s benefit and seemed to accept Putin’s insistence that Russia’s hands were clean.
Trump’s comments, at a joint news conference Monday after summit talks with Putin, drew heavy criticism back in the U.S., including from prominent Republicans. Sen. John McCain was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a “conscious choice to defend a tyrant” and achieved “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump made the U.S. “look like a pushover.”
In Helsinki, Putin said he did indeed want to Trump to win in 2016 — because of his policies — but took no action to make it happen.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” said Trump, repeatedly denouncing the special counsel investigation into Russian interference efforts, which intelligence officials warn are ongoing.
“I don’t see any reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election,’ Trump said.
It was an extraordinary press conference closing out the Trump-Putin summit, in which the American president delivered what amounted to a warm embrace to the man who for years has been isolated by the U.S. and Western allies for Russia’s activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond.
Trump said he and Putin “spent a great deal of time” discussing allegations of Russian election meddling as they met for several hours Monday. But Trump declined the opportunity to denounce Putin for the interference efforts, which U.S. intelligence agencies insist did occur, including hacking of Democratic emails, the subject of last week’s indictment of 12 Russians.
Trump said, as he has countless times, that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russians. “We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president,” he said.
Putin also suggested Monday that Moscow and Washington could jointly conduct criminal investigations into a dozen Russian intelligence officials accused of hacking during the 2016 U.S. election campaign — an idea Trump hailed as an “incredible offer.”
Asked if Russia could extradite the 12 Russian military intelligence officers, Putin challenged the U.S. to take advantage of a 1999 agreement envisaging mutual legal assistance.
He said the agreement would allow U.S. officials to request that Russian authorities interrogate the 12, adding that U.S. officials could request to be present in such interrogations.
Putin noted that Russia would expect the U.S. to return the favor and cooperate in the Russian probe against William Browder, a British investor charged of financial crimes in Russia. Browder was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.
The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States — and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea — for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, blaming “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump’s tweet and then replying: “We agree.”
Asked about the tweet and whether he held Russia responsible for anything, Trump said he held “both countries responsible” thinks the United States has been “fooling” and that “we’re all to blame.”
“The probe in a disaster for our country. There was no collusion at all.”
Putin, speaking through an interpreter, once again denied what he described as “so-called interference of Russia.” He called it “nonsense” and insisted the Russian state had never interfered and would never interfere in the American electoral process.
The pair had opened their long-awaited summit Monday with a wink and slouch, respectively, then talked one on one behind closed doors for two-plus hours before the American leader declared their meeting was off to a “very, very good start for everybody.”
“We have not been getting along well for the last number of years,” Trump said after arriving at the Presidential Palace in Finland’s capital, where the leaders are meeting. “But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. … I really think the world wants to see us get along.”
Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact through phone calls and meetings at international events but “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues.” He added: “There are quite a few of them for us to pay attention to.”
The summit, which is being closely watched around the world, was not the first time Trump and Putin have held talks. They met on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year. But Monday’s session was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump’s presidential campaign.
Addressing reporters before the one-on-one meeting, Putin struck a casual pose during Trump’s remarks, slouching in his chair with his legs wide and eyes low. He nodded along to some of Trump’s remarks before they were translated, showcasing his fluency in English. Trump leaned forward in his chair, his hands tented in front of him and frequently glanced over at the Russian president. At one point, he shot Putin a wink. After Trump concluded his remarks, American reporters shouted several questions about whether he would bring up election meddling during his discussions with Putin.
Trump did not respond; Putin appeared to smirk.
With that, the leaders gave a quick handshake and their private meeting in the opulent Gothic Hall was underway — the two of them, each with a translator.
Out on the streets, the summit attracted a grab-bag of protesters, with abortion-rights activists wearing artificially bulging bellies and Trump masks, anti-fascist protesters bearing signs with expletive-laden insults, and free traders, anti-war Ukrainians and gay rights supporters making their voices heard.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/colvinj and Isachenkov at http://twitter.com/visachenkov
Russian hackers used US online infrastructure against itself
By TAMI ABDOLLAH
Monday, July 16
WASHINGTON (AP) — Exactly seven months before the 2016 presidential election, Russian government hackers made it onto a Democratic committee’s network.
One of their carefully crafted fraudulent emails had hit pay dirt, enticing an employee to click a link and enter her password.
That breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was the first significant step in gaining access to the Democratic National Committee network.
To steal politically-sensitive information, prosecutors say, the hackers exploited some of the United States’ own computer infrastructure against it, using servers they leased in Arizona and Illinois. The details were included in an indictment released Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, who accused the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, of taking part in a wide-ranging conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The companies operating the servers were not identified in the court papers.
The Russians are accused of exploiting their access to inexpensive, powerful servers worldwide — conveniently available for rental — that can be used to commit crimes with impunity. Reaching across oceans and into networks without borders can obfuscate their origins.
The indictment painstakingly reconstructs the hackers’ movements using web servers and a complex bitcoin financing operation.
Two Russian hacking units were charged with tasks, including the creation and management of a hacking tool called “X-agent” that was implanted onto computers. The software allowed them to monitor activity on computers by individuals, steal passwords and maintain access to hacked networks. It captured each keystroke on infected computers and took screenshots of activity displayed on computer screens, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s online banking information.
From April to June 2016, the hackers installed updated versions of their software on at least 10 Democratic computers. The software transmitted information from the infected computers to a GRU-leased server in Arizona, the indictment said. The hackers also created an overseas computer to act as a “middle server” to obscure the connection between the DCCC and the hackers’ Arizona-based server.
Once hackers gained access to the DCCC network, it searched one computer for terms that included “hillary,” ”cruz,” and “trump” and copied select folders, including “Benghazi Investigations.”
In emails, the hackers embedded a link that purported to be a spreadsheet of Clinton’s favorability ratings, but instead it directed the computers to send its data to a GRU-created website.
Meanwhile, around the same time, the hackers broke into 33 DNC computers and installed their software on their network. Captured keystrokes and screenshots from the DCCC and DNC computers, including an employee viewing the DCCC’s banking information, were sent back to the Arizona server.
The Russian hackers used other software they developed called X-Tunnel to move stolen documents through encrypted channels to another computer the GRU leased in Illinois.
Despite the use of U.S.-based servers, such vendors typically aren’t legally liable for criminal activities unless it can be proved in federal court that the operator was party to the criminal activity.
A 1996 federal statute protects internet vendors from being held liable for how customers use their service, and except for a few exceptions, provides immunity to the providers. The law is considered a key part of the legal infrastructure of the internet, preventing providers from being saddled with the behemoth task of monitoring activity on their servers.
“The fact that someone provided equipment and or connectivity that was used to engage in data theft is not going to be attributed to the vendor in that circumstance,” Eric Goldman, a professor of law and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, said. A notable exception, however, is if federal prosecutors are bringing a criminal charge for violations of a federal criminal law.
In that case, “we’re going to require a high level of knowledge of their activity or intent,” Goldman said.
When the DNC and DCCC became aware they had been hacked, they hired a cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, to determine the extent of the intrusions. Crowdstrike, referred to as “Company 1” in the indictment, took steps to kick the hackers off the networks around June 2016. But for months the Russians eluded their investigators and a version of the malware remained on the network through October — communicating back to a GRU-registered internet address that appeared to be in Missouri, according to internet records.
As the company worked to kick them off, GRU officials allegedly searched online for information on Company 1 and what it had reported about its use of X-Agent malware and tried to delete their traces on the DCCC network by using commercial software known as CCleaner. Though Crowdstrike disabled X-agent on the DCCC network, the hackers spent seven hours unsuccessfully trying to connect to their malware and tried using previously stolen credentials to access the network on June 20, 2016.
The indictment also shows the reliance of Russian government hackers on American technology companies such as Twitter, to spread its stolen documents.
The hackers also accessed DNC data in September 2016 by breaking into DNC computers hosted on the Amazon Web Services’ cloud. The hackers used Amazon Web Services’ backup feature to create “snapshots” that they moved onto their own Amazon cloud accounts. Amazon also provides cloud computing services for various government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency.
Follow Tami Abdollah at https://twitter.com/latams
CNN’s Cooper calls Trump’s summit performance ‘disgraceful’
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Media Writer
Monday, July 16
NEW YORK (AP) — Seconds after President Donald Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin ended Monday, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called the American leader’s performance “disgraceful.”
It was the most startling of several strong media reactions to the session, televised live by the largest American broadcasters and cable news networks, primarily because of Cooper’s role. He was the news anchor directing CNN’s coverage, as opposed to a pundit paid to be opinionated.
“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, certainly that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Cooper later said it was embarrassing and compared the way Trump repeatedly brings up the issue of former opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails to something the autistic lead character in the movie “Rain Man” might do.
For the president, it’s likely to add another to his list of grievances about a network he has denounced as “fake news.” The White House over the weekend took action following CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s attempt to interject a question into a Trump news conference Friday by pulling Trump national security adviser John Bolton from a planned appearance on Jake Tapper’s weekend show.
Monday’s news conference turned on some sharp questions by Jonathan Lemire, White House correspondent for The Associated Press. Lemire asked Trump whether he agreed with the nation’s intelligence community, which has concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, or Putin, who has repeatedly denied it. Lemire also asked whether Trump would denounce election meddling and warn Putin not to do it again, and asked Putin whether Russia had gathered incriminating material on the American president.
Trump responded, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” He denounced the federal investigation into Russian interference efforts as a “disaster for our country.”
Putin said allegations that Russian intelligence agencies had collected compromising information on Trump were “sheer nonsense.” But he acknowledged that he had personally favored Trump in the race over Clinton.
“It’s hard to find words to describe,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said after the news conference. “All of you who are watching today will be able to tell your friends, family, your children, your grandchildren you were watching a moment of history. It may not be for the right reasons.”
Added NBC’s Hallie Jackson: “I think a fair word would be extraordinary. I have covered this president since the moment he was sworn in and have never been at a press conference like this one.”
CBS’ Margaret Brennan said she was messaging some U.S. officials during the speech who said they were turning off the television. “It’s a punch in the gut,” she said.
There were mixed reactions on Fox News Channel, whose commentators usually represent Trump’s biggest supporters. Fox will have a key role in the leaders’ attempt to spin the summit, since Trump is being interviewed by both Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson on Monday night, and Putin has sat down with Chris Wallace.
“Shameful, disgraceful, treasonous — those are some of the descriptions of what President Trump did today in Helsinki,” Fox’s Shepard Smith said to open his news show. Wallace appeared with Smith to describe his own 35-minute interview with Putin.
Wallace said he did what he suspected Trump did not do in the president’s private meeting with Putin — show the Russian leader a copy of the indictments handed down last week against a dozen Russian intelligence officials for their actions in the 2016 presidential election.
Putin didn’t want to see it, Wallace said. “He put it down on the table,” he said.
Some at Fox seized on tweeted criticism by former CIA director John Brennan, who said Trump’s performance was near treasonous. That was extreme, said Fox’s Ed Henry.
Making note of some of the political reaction to the news conference, Fox news anchor Bret Baier said Trump probably caused himself a lot of problems with his answers. “This isn’t a president who seems to want to shy away from any of that, though,” replied Fox’s Harris Faulkner. “He’s doing what he’s doing.”
Fox Business Channel’s Neil Cavuto said he’ll give Trump the benefit of the doubt that maybe he was suffering from jet lag or other problems related to the time difference in Helsinki.
“But holy moly,” he said.
Before the news conference, a contributor to The Nation magazine, Sam Husseini, was forcibly removed. It wasn’t clear why, but he was holding a piece of paper that said “Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.”
Later Monday, The Nation’s editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, mentioned the incident in an email asking for a donation to support the magazine’s journalism.
The wink, the slouch — the non-verbal cues at the summit
By KEN THOMAS and JONATHAN LEMIRE
Monday, July 16
HELSINKI (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and his trademark macho posture converged with President Donald Trump and his classic power stance as the leaders met on the world stage in Finland.
Seated in Helsinki’s ornate Gothic Hall, Putin appeared to slouch in his chair and looked off to the side at times on Monday, avoiding eye contact with Trump at the start of their high-profile talks. The taller Trump leaned forward in his chair, his forearms resting on his thighs and his hands connected by his fingertips as he appeared alongside with Russia’s leader. Hours later, the two leaders stood a few feet apart at lecterns as Trump declined to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which U.S. intelligence agencies have said occurred.
Trump and Putin had met twice previously but the Helsinki summit represented their most significant convocation to date, an encounter replete with non-verbal cues as two leaders known for their tough personas sized each other up once again.
For Trump, the meeting was the capstone to a weeklong European trip that has rattled NATO allies and came only hours after a series of tweets bemoaning the “rigged witch hunt” involving the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. For Putin, it came only three days after the Justice Department announced the indictment of a dozen Russian military intelligence officers on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. election.
Shortly after they entered the room and took their chairs, Trump gave Putin a quick wink as the sounds of camera shutters filled the room. He deferred to Putin to speak first, extending his hand, and then nodded as he listened to the translation of Putin’s remarks.
As Putin was speaking, Trump alternated between gazing at the Russian leader, occasionally making eye contact, and looking straight ahead as he tapped his fingers slightly and listened. The two exchanged a brief “thank you” after Putin wrapped up his remarks.
When Trump spoke, Putin leaned to his right in his chair, his elbow placed on the armrest near a small table that separated the two.
Putin appeared receptive when Trump congratulated him on Russia’s hosting of the World Cup and but seemed “somewhat bored” and less engaged when the American president predicted they would have an “extraordinary relationship,” said Mary Civiello, a New York-based executive communications coach who studies non-verbal communications.
Both leaders were vying for dominance in the room. “There’s mutual respect but it’s competitive,” Civiello said.
“Trump is a larger man and he is bigger but when you look at Putin and watch him, you think of the old saying, ‘Dynamite comes in small packages,’” she said.
The Russian leader glanced at his counterpart and nodded at times; at other moments Putin appeared to look to the floor as he listened to his translator.
Wrapping up his remarks, Trump initiated a brief handshake with Putin as the assembled press jostled to capture the moment. Both edged closer while seated in their chairs, briefly reaching over to clasp each other’s right hand.
Putin appeared to smirk as Trump ignored shouted questions about whether he would warn the Russian leader against meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.
In a lighter moment, Putin presented Trump with a red-white-and-black soccer ball from the World Cup, which concluded Sunday in Moscow. Trump smiled as he showed the ball to the television cameras and said he’d give it to his 12-year-old son Barron, a soccer fan. He tossed the ball to his wife Melania, seated in the front row.
Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, often pushed back against the frequent analyses of the body language in his meetings with Putin.
During a 2013 news conference, Obama insisted that he didn’t have bad personal chemistry with Putin but offered a memorable description of the Russian leader. “He’s got that kind of slouch,” Obama said of Putin, “looking like the bored kid at the back of the classroom.”
Despite that, Obama said their conversations were often “very productive.”
Thomas reported from Washington.