After previously saying his country had absolutely no involvement in cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, Putin acknowledged on Thursday that “patriotically minded” private Russian citizens could have engaged in hacking. The New York Times reported that Putin is still denying Russian government involvement, even as American intelligence agencies concluded that Putin himself ordered an “influence campaign” to help elect Trump.
Putin’s heavy wink and nod doesn’t do Trump any favors. Trump has insisted that allegations that the Russian government helped tip the election in his favor—thereby calling the legitimacy of his victory into question—are overblown. He famously said the attacks could have been carried out by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.’” Putin’s characterization of the hackers was much different, all but admitting that the hacks were done because Hillary Clinton was less friendly to Russia than Trump.
Raising the possibility of attacks by what he portrayed as free-spirited Russian patriots, Mr. Putin said that hackers “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.”
“If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions—which are right, from their point of view—to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” he added.
Putin’s remarks are bound to come up when the Senate Intelligence Committee resumes its hearings into possible collusion between the Russians and Trump’s campaign.