President Donald Trump confirmed for the first time that the United States launched a cyberattack against the Russian Internet Research Agency in 2018.
The IRA, a Russian company that deploys online trolls for influence operations, was blamed by U.S. officials for meddling in both the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms.
Trump confirmed the attack during a two-part interview with Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen. When asked whether the U.S. had launched an attack on the IRA, Trump responded “correct.”
The Washington Post in 2019 reported on the attack, which blocked the IRA’s internet access, but Trump had not previously confirmed U.S. involvement.
The president went on to criticize former President Obama for not doing enough to address the interference ahead of the 2016 elections.
Obama “knew before the election that Russia was playing around. Or, he was told. Whether or not it was so or not, who knows? And he said nothing,” Trump said.
“And the reason he said nothing was that he didn’t want to touch it because he thought [Hillary Clinton] was winning because he read phony polls,” he added. “So, he thought she was going to win. And we had the silent majority that said, ‘No, we like Trump.’”
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Obama responded to the meddling after the fact, through sanctions on Russians and Russian agencies involved and the expulsion of dozens of diplomats from the country.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a cyber campaign in 2016 to interfere in the presidential election and it believes the IRA works at the direction of the Kremlin.
Robert Mueller’s Russia probe eventually led to Treasury Department sanctions in 2018 against the IRA, its financier, Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, and nearly a dozen others for 2016 election interference.