In Defying the Odds, we discuss Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. The update -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.
For more than two years, however, Trump has recoiled when aides broached Russia’s 2016 theft and dissemination of Democratic emails and its manipulation of social media in an effort to sway the election.
“It’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump said in one meeting with advisers in 2017 when they tried to discuss what the government should do to deter Russian operations. People who were present or were briefed about the meeting and other administration discussions spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
During discussions in the Oval Office, Trump has regularly conflated the threat of foreign interference with attacks on the legitimacy of his election, the current and former officials said.
In one meeting in late summer 2018 in the Situation Room, aides told Trump that they wanted to talk publicly to raise voters’ awareness of the interference ahead of the midterm. According to an official familiar with the meeting, Trump placed a condition on any public statements: The aides must also make clear that Russia didn’t influence his win.
At times, Trump has implicitly acknowledged Russia’s actions, but he also has tried not to blame one country exclusively — saying that other nations are worse.
Several advisers said that Trump has mocked them for focusing on Russia, saying that “China is the only game in town,” and predicting that a bunch of “other countries” would try to emulate Russia’s efforts, current and former U.S. officials said.