Donald Trump has commented for the first time on the indictment of 12 Russians by special counsel Robert Mueller, choosing to blame Barack Obama for not “doing something about” election interference including the hacking of Democratic party emails.
Trump will meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
On Saturday, from Scotland, the US president tweeted: “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?”
According to widespread reporting and Obama aides including vice-president Joe Biden, chief of staff Denis McDonough and senior adviser Ben Rhodes, Obama attempted to formulate a bipartisan statement on Russian election interference in September 2016, two months before the election, but saw the effort “watered down” by Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
In a memoir, Rhodes called McConnell’s action “staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic in its disregard for a foreign adversary undermining our democracy”.
After the election, Obama issued sanctions against Russia, expelled diplomats and closed Russian compounds in the US.
Mueller is investigating election interference and alleged collusion between Trump aides and Moscow. He has already indicted 13 other Russian individuals and three Russian entities. Four former Trump aides have been indicted, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn is co-operating with the investigation; Manafort has pleaded not guilty to financial charges and is in jail awaiting trial.
Trump denies all collusion and has constantly called Mueller’s investigation a “rigged witch hunt”, as he did at Chequers during a press conference with British prime minister Theresa May on Friday. He had been informed earlier this week that the 12 new indictments were coming.
Mueller indicted the Russian military intelligence officials on Friday. The 29-page document contained details of email hacks, attacks on election infrastructure, the theft of large amounts of data and links to an unnamed associate of the Trump campaign. Sometime Trump adviser Roger Stone said on Friday night he was “probably” the unnamed associate.
The indictment said Russian hackers attempted “for the first time” to break into email accounts used in the personal office of Trump’s election opponent, Hillary Clinton, “after hours” on 27 July 2016. The same day, Trump said in a campaign speech: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens, that’ll be next.”
The Mueller indictment does not suggest a direct link between Trump’s remarks and the attempted hacks.
On Friday, senior Democrats called for the Helsinki summit to be cancelled. The White House said it would go ahead and said the new charges contained “no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result”.
Trump said he would raise with Putin the issue of election interference but also told reporters: “I don’t think you’ll have any, ‘Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me.’”
A Russian foreign ministry statement called the indictments “false information” and said “obviously, the purpose of this is to spoil the atmosphere”.
Trump was due to play golf on Saturday, at his own Turnberry course in Scotland. Using language familiar among conspiracy theorists on the US right, he also tweeted: “….Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?”
Earlier this year, the Trump administration implemented a new round of sanctions to punish Russia for its election meddling – after more than a month’s delay. Trump had sought to water down the sanctions, which were passed by Congress last year.
Warning that Moscow is attempting to meddle in future US elections, Trump’s own intelligence chiefs have testified that the administration is not doing enough to respond to Russian cyberattacks.