A day after calling WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “sycophant for Russia,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said it’s clear Moscow tried to meddle in the U.S. presidential election — but that wasn’t the reason for President-elect Donald Trump’s stunning victory in November.
“He won fair and square,” Ryan said during a Thursday press briefing in Washington. “He won clearly and convincingly. Russia didn’t tell Hillary Clinton not to go to Wisconsin or Michigan. They didn’t put the server in her basement or put the stuff on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.”
The Wisconsin Republican said the United States would never “condone any foreign actor, any outside interference from trying to mess with our elections.”
“But let’s just put this in the proper perspective,” Ryan said. “Let’s deny those who are trying to delegitimize a presidency before it starts, while doing what we need to do to make sure going forward that outside actors don’t interfere with our political system.”
Ryan’s comments came as intelligence officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Russian meddling in the election.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the Russian government’s involvement went far beyond the now highly publicized hacks of Democratic email accounts, which were merely one part of a multilayered campaign of propaganda and deception. The hacks led to the disclosure of politically embarrassing emails on WikiLeaks, driving weeks of negative news coverage during the campaign.
“While there has been a lot of focus on the hacking, this is actually part of a multifaceted campaign that the Russians mounted,” Clapper told the committee.
Early Wednesday, Trump cast doubt on the conclusion by U.S. intelligence officials that Russia was behind the hacking of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee, and suggested that he believes Assange’s claims more than the CIA’s.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless?” Trump tweeted. “Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
In an interview that aired Tuesday, Assange told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Russia was not the source of the stolen documents. Similar to Ryan, Assange said that those who say otherwise are trying to delegitimize Trump’s election victory.
“They are trying to say that President-elect Trump is not a legitimate president,” Assange said in the interview, which was conducted Monday at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where Assange has been living in exile for more than two years.
“We can say, we have said repeatedly over the last two months, that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party,” he told Hannity.
Despite Assange’s claims, the U.S. intelligence community has said it is certain that Russia was behind the cyberattacks that led to the WikiLeaks disclosures.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning, Ryan was asked for his thoughts on Assange.
“None, other than I think the guy is a sycophant for Russia,” Ryan said. “He leaks, he steals data and compromises national security.”
On Thursday, Trump denied backing Assange’s version of the events. He tweeted that “it is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth.” But Trump has also attacked the U.S. intelligence assessment about Russia and the cyberattacks. He and his transition team have repeatedly pointed to the intelligence failure regarding weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“Well, they don’t always get everything right. We’ve seen that clearly,” Ryan said Thursday of U.S. intelligence. “I do have faith that our men and women in our intelligence community are doing an incredible job, sacrificing for our country. But there’s always room for improvement.”