- By Ruby MellenRuby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy with a background in TV, print, and digital journalism. Before coming to FP, she covered the 2016 election as a news associate at CNN in Washington, D.C., working on State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Prior to that, she was a politics fellow at the Huffington Post. She was born in New York and is a dual citizen of Belgium and the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin changed his message on Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election when he suggested Thursday that while the Russian state had nothing to do with hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s emails, “patriotic” Russian individuals could have done so.
Speaking to reporters at the annual economic forum in St. Petersburg, the Russian president seemed to coyly acknowledge that Russian hackers may have had something to do with the DNC breach.
“Hackers are free people,” Putin said. “Just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting, likewise, hackers get up in the morning and read the news about international affairs. If they feel patriotic, they try to make what they see as a fair contribution to the struggle against those who speak ill of Russia.”
The comment is a shift from Putin’s former assertions that Russia was not at all involved in any meddling in the 2016 election.
U.S. intelligence agencies have already assessed that Putin himself was directly involved in the DNC hacks. The leaked emails from the DNC, followed by the hacking of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s personal email account, have been credited with contributing in some degree to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election.
But Putin was careful not to give these “patriotic” hackers too much credit, saying, regardless of their actions, “hackers can’t crucially influence an election in a foreign country.”
“The Russian government is not [supporting hackers] at any level and doesn’t plan to,” Putin added.
The comments may be made to preempt possible upcoming claims linking the Russian government to the hack. Former FBI Director James Comey is slated to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8 on the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government.
Putin, meanwhile has embarked on something resembling a publicity campaign in Western countries. He met with French President Emmanuel Macron Monday, gave a rare interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro, and is scheduled to sit down with NBC’s Megyn Kelly for an interview on Friday that will air Sunday.
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